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Southeast Gardening: ‘Smartscaping’ for Dry Weather

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Create an attractive landscape that stands up to those occasional bouts of dry weather that hit our region. Xeriscaping is really “smartscaping.”


By Glenn DiNella

I’m starting a campaign. My platform is lobbying horticulturists, gardeners, landscapers, and anyone else who deals with plants to change the word “xeriscaping” to “smartscaping.”

Unless you majored in classical languages, you probably don’t know the “xeri” part of the word comes from the Greek for “dry.” Some people mistakenly (or jokingly) call it “zeroscaping,” thinking all you do is stick in some cacti and cover the ground with gravel. In reality, smartscaping can be attractive and fit in with our Southeastern landscape.

Although weather in the Southeast often brings ample rainfall, we typically go through tough periods of drought. So while many of our favorite Southern plants, such as azaleas and French hydrangeas, do well when water abounds, they may succumb to a relatively brief dry spell during the hot summer months. If you’re smart, you’ll begin smartscaping and stocking your landscape with plants that laugh in the face of drought.

bee on vitex flower

All plants require regular irrigation during the first year as they become established, but not all plants can handle the heat and dry spells after that. Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is one of my favorites. Not only does this attractive small tree handle drought well, but it also comes alive during the summer months, when its pale-purple blooms attract pollinators by the thousands.

little bluestem grass

Perennial grasses are great selections for smartscaping. They adapt to dry conditions, and their wispy nature marries well with plants sporting other types of foliage. In addition to popular grasses, such as pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), and maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis), try one of our native grasses, such as this little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), shown here with another smartscape plant, black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.).

dog on front stoop

In addition to the dog, Buddy, this smartscape scene contains a host of low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants. Clearly this is the work of a smart gardener. Selections include Limelight hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’), yucca (Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard’), dianthus, creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’), ‘Kaleidoscope’ abelia, prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.), the aforementioned maiden grass, and mahonia.

Wait, that’s my dog. Hey, that’s my house. Go figure.

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