In search of brilliant blooms without a lot of water

Plants that survive without daily water can include most trees, shrubs and many perennials.

The warm month of August means homeowners appreciate the “un-thirsty” plants that continue to survive without daily water. In Western Washington this means most established trees and shrubs and many perennials.

There are even some annuals like sunflowers and portulaca that can handle the heat and still produce brilliant blooms.

Q. I would like the specific names of some of the winter-hardy sedums and succulents that will survive winter in our climate and also thrive with little water in the summer. I do know the low growing “Hens and Chicks” but what are the taller varieties? L.M., Sumner

A. Bring on the big freeze as these upright succulents survive winter cold down to negative 25 degrees! The traditional star of the perennial sedums is the brilliant pink (turning to rust) sedum Autumn Joy but there are also some new varieties from Oregon grower Terra Nova that you can find at local nurseries. The first to celebrate is called Birthday Party with deep rose pink flower heads and purple-brown tinted leaves. It has a compact habit, standing about a foot tall. Also making a splash is the hardy sedum Pool Party that blooms with cauliflower-like flowers on stems up to 20 inches tall with smooth, succulent, blue foliage. These two will do great in containers or rock gardens.

You can add more sweet color to your sedum celebration with sedum Chocolate Drop so named for the dark, glossy brown leaves on a compact plant just under a foot tall. The flowers are a rose color that contrasts with the deep chocolate foliage. Just give these and other sedums good drainage, at least a half-day of sun and water during extended dry spells. There are also some Portulaca Rose Moss that grow low, bloom all summer and survive the winter in rock gardens and other areas with excellent drainage.

Q. I have tried growing sedums and succulents in containers and they shriveled up and died. They are supposed to be easy plants that need no water. What did I do wrong? J.J., email

A. My best guess is that you failed to water enough. Shriveled foliage is a sign of thirst and all plants, even cacti, need water. Sedums and succulents need “moderate” water not “no” water. This means if they are growing in the hot sun in a small pot or sandy soil they could dry out in as soon as two days. Plants in the ground can spread their roots and find moisture but plants in small pots dry out quickly – even sedums. The key to happy sedums and succulents is good drainage, bright sunlight and water as soon as the soil has dried. Sedums do not need full sun and prefer morning sun and afternoon shade. They store water in their fleshy leaves so they can survive if you occasionally skip a watering but the sedums that require the least amount of water are those planted into the ground with established root systems.

Q. Are there any shrubs that will survive full sun and also part shade? I am hoping to find something that will bloom and also has attractive foliage. I need a shrub that does not require a lot of water and will survive poor soil. I have a large area in my new front yard to fill with plants and I prefer to use just one type of plant arranged in drifts for more of a natural look. L.S., Renton

A. Meet the golden spiraeas. Carefree gardeners need to fall in love with this tough but pretty family of shrubs that adapt to both sun and shade. Spiraeas bloom with pink and red flowers on shrubby plants. There are many types of spiraeas but the Magic Carpet spiraea is one of the lower growing varieties at 3 feet tall. The foliage is a bold gold with the ends of the leaves tipped with red. A taller version with golden foliage is Goldflame Spirea that spreads out 5 to 6 feet wide and 4 feet tall to take up a lot of room. The branches on both of these varieties reach all the way to the ground, preventing weeds and shading the soil. All newly-planted shrubs, even the tough spiraeas, will need extra water the first year as they grow a strong root system.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her website,

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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