Best Drought Tolerant Annuals: Choosing Drought Tolerant Annuals For Containers & Gardens

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By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

As drought conditions worsen across much of the country, it’s time to pay close attention to water usage in our homes and gardens. However, if you think the drought is going to dry up your hopes of a beautiful garden filled with colorful annuals, don’t worry. Read on for tips and information about a few of the best drought tolerant annuals.

Characteristics of the Best Drought Tolerant Annuals

Annuals are plants that live for only one growing season. Generally, flowering annuals bloom all summer, then set seed before they die when the weather turns cold in autumn.

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The best drought tolerant annuals tend to have smaller leaves, which minimize moisture evaporation. The leaves may be waxy to retain moisture, or they may be covered with silvery or white hairs to reflect light. Drought-tolerant annuals often have long roots so they can reach for moisture deep in the soil.

Drought Tolerant Annuals for Full Sun

Here are some suggestions for annual plants that tolerate sunny, drought conditions:

  • Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) – Silvery, fern-like foliage that provides an interesting contrast when planted next to annuals with deep green foliage and brightly colored blooms. Dusty miller is perennial in mild climates.
  • Marigolds (Tagetes) – Lacy, bright green foliage and compact blooms in shades of orange, copper, gold and bronze.
  • Moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora) – Sun- and heat-loving annuals with succulent leaves and masses of colors in a variety of intense shades such as yellow, pink, red, orange, violet and white.
  • Gazania (Gazania spp.) – Low-growing, ground-hugging plant that produces bright, daisy-like blooms of pink, orange, red, white, yellow and orange in parched, sunbaked soil.
  • Lantana (Lantana camara) – Shrubby annual with bright green leaves and a clusters of brightly colored blooms.

Drought Tolerant Annuals for Shade

Keep in mind that most shade-loving plants require small amounts of sunlight every day. They do well in broken or filtered light, or in a location exposed early morning sunlight. These shade to semi-shade loving annuals handle drought well:

  • Nasturtium (Tropaelum majus) – Easy-to-grow annuals with attractive green leaves and flowers in sunny shades of yellow, red, mahogany and orange. Nasturtiums love partial shade or morning sunlight.
  • Wax begonia (Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum) – waxy, heart-shaped leaves in shades of mahogany, bronze or bright green, with long-lasting blooms ranging from white to rose, pink or red. Wax begonia tolerates shade or sun.
  • California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) – drought-friendly plant that prefers sun but does well in partial shade. California poppy provides feathery, bluish-green foliage and intense orange blooms.
  • Spider flower (Cleome hasslerana) – another annual that loves sun but blooms well in partial shade, spider flower is a tall plant that provides exotic-looking flowers in shades of white, rose and violet.

Drought Tolerant Annuals for Containers

As a general rule, plants that are suitable for sun or shade are also well suited for containers. Just be sure the plants that share a container have similar needs. Don’t plant sun-loving plants in the same pots as annuals that need shade.

How to Grow Drought-Tolerant Annuals

Generally, drought-tolerant annuals require very little care. Most are happy with a deep watering whenever the soil is relatively dry. Most don’t tolerate bone dry soil. (Check container plants often!)

Fertilize regularly throughout the blooming season to support continued flowering. Pinch seedlings at least once or twice to promote bushy grown and deadhead wilted blooms regularly to prevent plants from going to seed early.

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