Drought-Tolerant Plants for Dry Climates

Drought-tolerant plants are perfect for those gardeners in warm climates.

| January/February 2014

  • Tomatillos and a red chile pepper sit on a rustic wooden table.
    Photo By iStockphoto/arcimages
  • 'Super Chili' chile peppers grow in the garden.
    Photo By Jerry Pavia
  • "Amaranthus caudatus" (Love-Lies-Bleeding) grows in the vegetable garden.
    Photo By Jerry Pavia
  • The Globe Artichoke is part of the thistle family.
    Photo By iStockphoto/Debralee Wiseberg
  • A cantaloupe grows in the garden.
    Photo By Joan Osth
  • Freshly harvested sweet potatoes spilling from a burlap bag onto a natural weathered rust wood table.
    Photo By iStockphoto/Roel David Smart
  • A close-up shot of okra growing in the vegetable garden.
    Photo By iStockphoto/shanelinkcom
  • Growth and production of Sunburst Squash is better in hot-summer areas.
    Photo By Jerry Pavia

Selecting and growing heat- and drought-tolerant plants is important for many folks living in the warmest and driest parts of the United States. Knowing which vegetables to plant is not always an easy task, but certain varieties will thrive under dry, hot conditions. Of course, there are other factors to consider as well: soil, sun and wind exposure, availability of irrigation water, and more.

Plants that are heat tolerant are not necessarily drought tolerant — and vice versa. And more than just water availability is generally involved with a plant’s ability to cope with heat. For example, adequate soil oxygenation, wind exposure and heat-reflecting properties of soil surfaces and surroundings can all dramatically affect a plant’s ability to tolerate heat, even when you can supply all the moisture it needs. Use this guide to help you choose the healthiest and best-producing plants for even the hottest dry-climate regions.

Peppers, sweet or hot, Capsicum species

Peppers need no description, as there are many species and cultivars commonly grown for their edible fruits. All need a long, warm growing season in order for the fruit to properly ripen. They love heat and prefer a well-drained yet moisture-retentive soil for best results.

Peppers are an excellent source of vitamin A and one of the best vegetable sources of vitamin C. They also contain many other nutrients in lesser amounts.

Tomatillos, Physalis ixocarpa

Grown in much the same way as tomatoes, this interesting perennial vegetable is easily grown as an annual. Growing 3 to 4 feet tall, like many tomatoes, it may need to be trained on a trellis. It bears purple-blotched yellow flowers, followed by golf-ball-sized, purplish fruits that are enclosed in a papery, often purple, veined husk. Try tomatillos for a mildly hot green sauce with tacos, or add raw to salads, pies and jams.

Amaranth, Amaranthus species and cultivars

Amaranth is usually thought of as a grain crop, but many amaranth species and cultivars can also be eaten as vegetables. Young leaves and shoots can be used in salads, and mature leaves can be cooked like spinach. Amaranth is one of only a few greens that enjoy the heat of summer. Most amaranth species prefer warm conditions with full sun for best growth, along with adequate moisture and well-drained, moderately fertile soil.

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