By Kim Toscano
Sometimes, despite our best efforts to improve soil health, problem areas persist in the landscape. While amending soils with organic matter is always a good idea, careful plant selection is another way to tackle challenging planting sites. Whether you struggle with compaction, clay subsoils, high salts, or low fertility, you can still grow thriving gardens by turning to tough plants. Just like our gardens, not all natural habitats have ideal growing conditions. Fortunately, nature has supplied us with a plethora of plants that can handle those difficult sites.
1 – Fire Chief™ Arborvitae
Here’s a plant tailor-made for the Deep South. Fire Chief™ thrives under the high humidity and clay soils characteristic of many southern gardens. It also performs well in loamy, sandy, or chalky soils and tolerates a range of soil pH from acidic to alkaline. Arborvitae grow in soils inhabited by black walnut trees where many other plants suffer.
2 – ‘Orange Rocket’ Barberry
Here’s a plant for hot, dry sites and challenging urban settings. ‘Orange Rocket’ Barberry is an extremely adaptable, water-wise shrub with no serious pest problems. It tolerates clay soils, alkaline conditions, and periodic drought. Avoid planting barberry in poorly drained locations.
3 & 4 – Spring Sonata™ and Rosalinda® Indian Hawthornes
Coastal gardeners rejoice! Indian Hawthorne is the salt-tolerant shrub you’ve been searching for. These hawthornes thrive under a variety of soil conditions, as long as drainage is adequate, and tolerate the high humidity and wind common in coastal locations. Further inland, you’ll find these plants stand up to heat and tolerate periods of drought once established.
5 – Prime-Ark® ‘Freedom’ Thornless Blackberry
Blackberries are among the easiest fruits to grow in the home garden. Drought tolerant, cold hardy, and resistant to rust disease, Prime-Ark® ‘Freedom’ is about as low-maintenance as a berry can get. Plants tolerate a variety of soils, including clay. Avoid overwatering blackberries, which can lead to root rot.
6 – ‘Sunset Flash’ Gaillardia
Beat the heat in style with gaillardia. Also called blanket flower, these tough perennials are water-wise and show excellent drought tolerance once established. Gaillardia tolerate a variety of soils and thrive on poor sandy sites.
7 – Ultra Violet™ Buddleia
In nature, buddleia grow on rocky ravines, making them well suited to dry soil conditions, whether clay, sand, or loam. Plants perform well in acidic to alkaline soils. In fact, one of the few soil requirements for thriving buddleia is good drainage.
8 – Miss Lemon™ Abelia
An adaptable landscape shrub, abelia is the perfect plant for difficult areas of the garden where soil moisture varies throughout the season. Plants tolerate occasional saturation, but not constantly waterlogged soils. Use them in rain gardens and other locations where water collects, but dries between rainfall events. Drought tolerant once established.
9 – Coppertop™ Sweet Viburnum
Viburnums are well known for being hardy, tough plants and Coppertop™ is no exception. Adaptable to a variety of soil and light conditions, Coppertop™ demonstrates good drought tolerance once established. And coastal gardeners appreciate the plant’s salt tolerance.
10 – ‘Chicago Apache’ Daylily
Another plant that tolerates both drought and flood conditions, daylilies are perfect for rain gardens, low-lying areas, and other poorly-drained sites. At the same time, they are well adapted to poor sandy soils. Daylily roots absorb and store water, so you can put them to work managing landscape run-off. Plants also tolerate salt, offering a lovely solution for coastal gardens.