Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Horticulture and Crop Science
2021 Coffey Rd., Columbus, Ohio 43210-1086

Landscape Plants for Use in Dry Areas

Elton M. Smith

        Soils become dry, primarily due to specific soil texture characteristics or less than normal rainfall. High amounts of sand in the soil tend to increase drainage and make soils drier than silt loam soils. Clay loam soils also tend to be very dry and very wet other times.

    Generally, adding organic matter to the soil will help both soil types overcome dryness. Materials often used for soil amendment incorporation and mulching include peat moss, bark and composted products.

Mulching after planting to a depth of at least 2 inches will also assist in reducing moisture loss from the plants.

    Rainfall is unpredictable, as was seen during the summers of 1983, '84, '87 and '88 in Ohio. Very little rainfall occurred for several months, and plant materials suffered badly. Many plants wilted and this was followed by twig and branch dieback. A large number of plants died, especially viburnum, spruce, and a wide range of plants that had been planted within the past year that had not become well established.

    When rainfall is below average, landscape plants like turf should be given supplemental water to prevent dessication injury. Water should be added to thoroughly moisten the root zone; the amount will vary depending on size and species of plants. Generally, 1 inch of water per week should be adequate; however, more will be required if there has been no rainfall for several weeks and the soil is particularly dry.

    Typically, irrigation is applied with some type of overhead irrigation or sprinkler system, or by hose. A hose is not usually sufficient for watering woody plants because the pressure is too high and a large amount of water is lost through surface run-off. A system that is effective but not yet used extensively in this part of the United States is drip or trickle irrigation.

    Garden centers have systems that connect to the outside water spigot, operate on low water pressure and considerably reduce water run-off or waste. The systems involve laying down plastic lines in the plant beds with an emitter placed by each tree or shrub. A timer can operate for a certain time period and automatically turn off the system.

Trees and Shrubs Most Tolerant of Dry Areas



* Not considered by most horticulturists to be the best tree selections for various reasons; however, in very dry sites they may be the only plants that thrive.

NOTE: Disclaimer - This publication may contain pesticide recommendations that are subject to change at any time. These recommendations are provided only as a guide. It is always the pesticide applicator's responsibility, by law, to read and follow all current label directions for the specific pesticide being used. Due to constantly changing labels and product registrations, some of the recommendations given in this writing may no longer be legal by the time you read them. If any information in these recommendations disagrees with the label, the recommendation must be disregarded. No endorsement is intended for products mentioned, nor is criticism meant for products not mentioned. The author and Ohio State University Extension assume no liability resulting from the use of these recommendations.