Saturday, April 30, 2016

Okanagan Dryland Spring-Flowering Perennials

Have you ever wanted to plant something that can really take care of itself in the hot dry conditions of summer?  I have been trying to add color to the dusty dry areas of our yard, planting native flowers and other drought tolerant perennials to replace the weeds.  I am most impressed with the most drought-hardy of these plants and have now got blooms on my plantings from the last two years.

These are my new favourite April-blooming drought-tolerant perennials:


1.  Heuchera cylindrica, the Round-leafed Alumroot.

 I actually found a few of these Okanagan native plants growing on our property and recognized the Heuchera foliage.  These are a wild variety of those plants at the nursery we know as coral bells, with the varieties of colors of foliage and white, red, or pink flowers.  I dug up one plant in early spring more than a year ago and divided it into as many plants as I could, producing this new group of plants.  Like all Heuchera,  the foliage is still attractive when not in bloom and they make a nice green groundcover.  These are growing in a predominantly sandy soil and doing well, much like the small iceplant next to them (which gives you an idea of the drought-hardiness, as iceplant will not  tolerate wet soils).  This group of plants gets a bit of drip-irrigation, but others in the yard get only rain and they look great too.

Heuchera cylindrica

 2.  Erigeron linearis, the Desert Yellow Daisy

This is another native plant, found in sagebrush and grassland habitats in the interior Pacific northwest.  I started these from seed last year.  They really needed to stay well-drained and I would recommend combining your seed-starting mix with sand and perlite to keep them happy.  These are living in the sandy gravel at the top of my driveway.  They are so cute and I would be happy if they behave like other Erigeron I have grown, self-seeding generously.  When they bloom later in the year, I will post about the Erigeron glaucus and E. karvinskianus.  
Erigeron linearis

 3.  Penstemon fruticosus, the Shrubby Penstemon

I was so excited to see the flowers on my Shrubby Penstemons this year.  For a plant I hardly ever water and that grows in poor sandy soil, I can't believe the beautiful flowers on this specimen.  I first noticed this plant growing on the rocky-sandy slopes at the base of Giant's Head Mountain in Summerland.  I crawled up close to get a better look identify it.  A few nurseries that specialize in native plants (Grasslands in Summerland and Sagebrush in Oliver) sell these plants.  I have not had much luck in starting these from seed myself.  Also, the seed is rather difficult to find from online sources.  
They spread up to 36" across and grow 12" tall.  They look like some well-bred nursery cultivar, but after they get established, they can be entirely neglected (like the ones growing wild on the hill a few kilometers away).  The ones in the wild seem to like to grow in partially shaded areas with some trees around. 
Penstemon fruticosus

 4.  Linum perenne, Blue Flax

This perennial is commonly seen at the sides of the highways in this area.  I have both the regular common Blue Flax (pictured) and a cultivar that is more compact, called "Sapphire".  The compact one is shorter and I do prefer its neat mound to the sometimes spindly tall stems of the common blue flax.  However, both make nice color.  This is a short lived perennial, but because it self-seeds freely, it will replace old plants with new ones.  It likes to get a little extra water in full sun.  I bring out a watering can every few weeks to give it a drink. 
Linum perenne, Blue Flax in Summerland, BC

 5.  Aurinia saxatilis, Basket of Gold Alyssum

Judging from the carpets of brilliant yellow flowers on slopes at the edges of of neighbour's properties, this perennial thrives without much water or care.  I have the "Compacta" variety of Aurinia saxatilis.  I have planted it in full sun, in the drip-irrigated section of the landscaping topped with bark mulch, but I plan to plant more of it in non-irrigated areas in the next year.  In preparation for these expanded plantings, I have a tray of small plants growing in the greenhouse -- all pricked out of a carpet of seedlings I took from under a mature plant.

This plant self-seeds a lot, so expect to find additional plants growing nearby.  I am don't mind this, because at they have appeared in rocky cracks where weeds would otherwise grow.  Growing them on and around rock walls is a great idea.  When not in bloom, it has grey-blue foliage (essential color of desert-type plants), similar in color to Artemisia. 
Alyssum saxatile

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