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Drought Tolerant Perennials, Trees, And Shrubs For The Midwest

As owner of a lawn and garden center, I can safely say that this has been both the best and worst season that we have ever had.  Our spring was temperate, allowing for great sales on the weekends, and our landscaping department did extremely well.  Then, came the months of June and July, and the ground (and our business) dried up……literally.  Two weekends ago my wife and I decided to plant a few upright yews in front of our house, especially since the deer, in their quest of something green, had mowed our hostas to the ground.  Our lawn is irrigated, and I was amazed at how dry the soil was, eventually needing a pick (aka Ozark shovel) to finish the job.

It is painful to drive by someone’s yard and see a total hedge wiped out because that person couldn’t even take the time to drag a hose over and “drip” water onto it.  I wonder if these people think that the plants have simply gone dormant.  Those of us who know better, just know that those plants are dead!

I have noticed, over the years, through experience in my own yard and garden, and at our nursery, which plants seem to do the best in times like these.  I will share with you the plants, including perennials, trees, and shrubs, which seem be do the best in dry, or xeric, conditions.  If I have forgotten any, or if you have had different experiences, please leave a comment for others to read.


  • catmint
  • monarda
  • rudbeckia
  • sedum (excluding stonecrop)
  • daylilies
  • salvias
  • coneflowers of all varieties
  • heliopsis
  • shasta daisies
  • lamb’s ear
  • coreopsis (great!)
  • liatris (my favorite, anyway)
  • obedient plant
  • Russian sage
  • Missouri primrose
  • dianthis
  • agastache
  • butterfly bush


  • amur maple
  • buckeye
  • barberry
  • yew
  • quince
  • cotoneaster
  • burning bush (color may prematurely change when dry)
  • witchhazel
  • arborvitae
  • blueberry
  • virburnums (great diversity of choices that tolerate sun and shade!)
  • boxwoods
  • weigela
  • spirea
  • lilac


  • maples, especially Tatarian and Amur
  • hornbeam
  • dogwood (don’t place in full sun!)
  • smoketree
  • beech, common or european
  • ash
  • gingko
  • Kentucky coffee tree
  • linden
  • red bud

Obviously, there are trees that thrive on having their “feet” wet and I would definitely not plant willows or birch trees in areas that tend to be dry.  Remember to ask questions when buying these plants, as a reputable garden center should be able to tell you the best spot to plant your purchase.

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