By Sharon Omahen
Georgia Agricultural Experiment Stations
Before you decide which plants to keep and which you plan to pitch from your landscape in the spring, consider your future selections' drought tolerance.
"Unfortunately, our plants can't ring the doorbell and tell us they need watering," said Jim Midcap, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"If they could talk, they'd most likely tell us they could have used more water and fertilizer last year," Midcap said. "They'd also tell you they could have developed more flowers and been more robust if you had given them more care rather than just visited when they were flowering."
A quick look will tell you
Midcap says a quick look around your landscape will tell you which of your current plants are drought-resistant.
"Considering Georgia's drought conditions, if a plant's not dead or very stressed, it's most likely drought-resistant," he said.
Drought plant planning
Midcap offers advice to homeowners who are planning to add new landscape plants to their yards despite the ongoing drought.
First, divide your landscape into water-use zones.
"You should have an area where you group plants that have to be irrigated regularly, other areas for those that have to be irrigated only under drought conditions and areas for plants that rely on rainfall only for their water," Midcap said.
Next, to help your plants survive the drought, apply a layer of mulch. Mulch will help hold water in the soil around your plants.
Midcap says planting and establishing your trees and shrubs during the winter can actually help them be more drought-tolerant in the spring and summer.
"When you prune your plants, they're going to grow more and require more water in spring and summer," he said.
Picking drought-proof plants
Above all, Midcap says the key to having a droughtproof landscape is plant selection.
"Pick plants that are tough, durable, resilient and hardy for both winter and summer," he said. "You also have to look at the drought resistance, light requirement, soil types, space available and pest resistance."
For example, you wouldn't want to plant hostas in direct sunlight or Leyland cypress in a small area.
Once you've covered all of these bases, then you can take into consideration what you want to see in your landscape. Do you want an evergreen plant? Or do you care more about having a yard filled with pretty flowers?
Midcap recommends the following drought-resistant shrubs for your landscape. Many other drought-resistant shrubs are available from your local nursery or garden center.
Glossy abelia, a heritage plant that's "tough as nails" and doesn't grow too large.
Wintergreen and Japanese barberry, often called "sticker bushes." The colored-leaf forms are popular, and it's a tough plant with no known pests.
Butterfly bush. It's a great selection for drought conditions. It's very drought-tolerant, but it tends to get big. Deadhead old flowers to ensure new ones.
Sweetshrub, a native, tough plant that grows well in shade. It's deciduous, with bold foliage and flowers, and can be found with red (Carolina sweetshrub) and yellow (Athens sweetshrub) fragrant flowers.
Flowering quince, a heritage plant that produces flowers early in the spring before the leaves emerge.
Hollies (Chinese, dwarf yaupon, Nellie R. Stevens). A standard in the green industry, once it's established, it's in for good.
Winter jasmine, a tough plant that naturally cascades down banks. It looks like an early forsythia, but doesn't produce as many flowers.
Leatherleaf mahonia, a heritage plant that, once established, is there for good.
Southern wax myrtle. This plant wants to be a tree. It grows to look like haystacks pruning.
Fortune's Osmanthus, a very tough evergreen that can stand the test of time. It has small, fragrant flowers in fall.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)