what perennials would do well in poor soil?

three4rdMay 7, 2007


We have basically shale, rather dry soil with lots of rocks. We live on top of a hill with lots of wind, so I suspect this contributes to the problem of drying out the soil. I always work in peat moss whenever I plant something or else I doubt if anything would come up. I've basically relied on yarrow (which doesn't do as well as I would have thought), russian sage, coneflower, coreopsis, soapwort (again- depends on the location), daylilies and, amazingly, asiatic lillies - which seem to like our soil and spread like crazy. However, I'd like to add some more variety. We especially have very few spring perennials in the beds.

I've tried so many different things that have died...I've lost count. I had heard that salvia is easy to grow, but mine didn't work. Any suggestions, please let me know. I cannot even grow purple loosestrife...which most poeple can't get rid of once it's started!

Any suggestions, please let me know.



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Prairie grasses for dry soil (such as little bluestem) would work in your situation. For Spring perennials, try Phlox pilosa "Eco Happy Traveler." It's bright magenta and spreads a bit, but not as much as the straight species. For me it usually blooms in June, before the coneflowers. Alliums would probably also like your situation. For early Spring you could try Pulsatilla and Geum triflorum. The wild petunia, Ruellia humulis, also takes dry soil. It blooms for a long time in the summer with small lavender flowers.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 2:09PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

Some of my toughest perennials (besides the ones you mentioned) are Gaillardia grandiflora (not the maroon variety, which is not very tough for some reason), Anthemis tinctoria (which is invasive at my house), and Nepeta. All three can handle dry soil very well, too.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 5:12PM
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steve22802(7a VA)

Try some different sedums. There are a wide variety of sedums and they all like poor well drained soil in the sun. Lambs ears (Stachys byzantina) should do well, try the variety 'Helen von Stein' if you want to avoid the floppy blossom stalks. Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) should work. I'll also second the suggestion to try some ornamental grasses: Miscanthus, Festuca, Helictotrichon, Phalaris, etc. Hmm what else... Liatris spicata, Echinops, Kniphofia.

Good luck!
- Steve

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 9:06PM
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robynpa(5/6 Pgh)

I second Iberis sempervirens - I love mine and used them along the front of my border. The white is bright and clear and it stays evergreen for me. They have been blooming for 3 to 4 weeks now.

Sedum Autumn Joy would do well also.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 10:15PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Also try Belamcanda and Pardancandas (many strains of the latter available now), spring penstemons, agastaches (A. foeniculum as well as the western types), Callirhoe digitata and C. bushii, peonies (yes, I think they'll do well), Asclepias tuberosa, Gaura.

What yarrows did you try? 'Terracotta' is very vigorous without being invasive and is a beautiful color. A. 'Summer wine' may also do well for you.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 7:09AM
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ladychroe(z6 NJ)

I would try iceplant, lavendar, and galliarda. Also dianthus.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 11:25AM
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goodhors(z5 MI)

Check for plants that like well-drained soil, like all the lavanders. Rhubarbs might be happy there, with a little ammendment to soil, give you a splash of large! You could do either the edible ones or the Chinese rhubarb (poisonous), for foliage leaves only. Both rhubarbs do send up a flower stalk, that is attractive for a week or so.

Not sure of your location, but the Heath and Heathers might be a consideration. They like sharp drainage, but cold wind in my Z5 area dried mine out, it died. They flower almost first, quite attractive color and foliage where they can survive.

Day lily plants will be slow starters, but really do well when they settle in, even in windy, well drained places.

The grasses mentioned could be very happy. So many kinds to choose from, you could have several in an attractive grouping of small to large. The long roots will help grass stay nice in well drained soils with a little ammendment. Grass is so pretty moving in the wind, any season.

Peonies, Tree Peonies? Preparing a bed could be a bit of work. Maybe just dumping some extra or new soil on top of your present ground, to start. But then Peonies would settle in and probably do very well. Herbacous peonies don't like being planted too deep. Tree peonies do like to be a bit deep. Maybe with mulching, they would have enough water in well drained soil, not need extra watering with age, better roots as they mature. Sure worth the work to me, for peony flowers.

Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 1:29PM
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You may want to check out High Country Garden's catalog for some ideas. They have plants that do well in xeric conditions, and it sure sounds like that's what you have. I am surprised no one has mentioned Agastache - rupestris, cana, etc. Mine are doing beautifully in matted root conditions under a maple (high canopy tree, so not much shade). Dianthus also like good drainage, and should do well for you. Baptisia have been bullet proof for me, and I have baby plants living in the root zone of some trees. If you put in a little effort towards getting your plants established, they'll do well with little coddling in the long run.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 3:11PM
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playsindirt(z5 MO)

High Country Gardens is a good idea. Here's a list of stuff that supposedly likes it "bad" -

Achillea serrata (Millfoil or Yarrow)
Ajuga genevensis (Geneva Bugle)
Alyssum saxatile (Goldentuft)
Arabis albida (Wallcress)
Cerastium tomentosum (Snow-in-Summer)
Dianthus deltoides (Maiden Pink)
Dianthus plumarius (Grass Pink)
Eryngium campestre (Hundred Thistle)
Euphorbia Myrsinites (Myrsinites-like Spurge)
Geranium sanguineum (Blood Red Cranesbill)
Geranium maculatum (Spotted Cranesbill)
Gypsophila paniculata (Baby's-breath)
Helianthemum vulgare (Rock or Sun Rose)
Iberis sempervirens (Evergreen Candytuft)
Linaria vulgaris (Toadflax)
Phlox subulata (Moss Phlox)
Potentilla tridentata (Wineleaf Cinquefoil)
Salvia azurea (Azure Sage)
Saxifraga pennsylvanica (Penn. or Swamp Saxifrage)
Sedum acre (Goldmoss)
Sedum stoloniferum (Running Sedum)
Sempervivum (Roof Houseleek)
Sempervivum arvernense (Auvergne Houseleek)
Verbascum Thapsus
Veronica rupestris (Creeping Speedwell)
Viola cucullata (Blue Marsh Violet)

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 5:46PM
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jkunkel(zone 7)

LAVENDER!!! likes dry rocky sandy nasty siol and it smells good too. It is a perenial and when the wind catches that fragrance and blows it in your face you will love it on top of that hill!! Just an idea, good luck!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 6:54PM
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I'd like to thank everyone for the replies. I'm not familiar with many of the plants suggested for dry soil, especially by the scientific names, but I will do my homework and try a few. I'll also check out the High Country catalog. I do recall trying sun rose and cranesbill (both died), as did a penstemon. I sort of recall trying lavendar already too. I forgot to mention that, yes, dianthus has pretty well caught on in almost any bed I put it in. Lamb's ears, also, have done pretty well. Bleeding heart likes my soil also.

I'm surprised noone has mentioned soapwort (unless, as I said, it was referred to in a different name). This plant seems really vigorous, blooms beautifully, and spreads.

A whole separate issue is the rabbits and chipmunks.....and ofcourse they always eat the stuff that is doing well!

Thanks again,

    Bookmark   May 9, 2007 at 10:25AM
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I love blue flax...it reseeds and pops up here and there. I'm really windy here too, but it just keeps a going. I also like my obedience plant, but I recommend putting it somewhere it won't creep into trouble. I use it at the corner of the house, so we are constantly mowing it back if it creeps out too far. Mine is a dark pink, blooms in August and is about 3 feet tall. Some years the blooms blow off in a week, but some years it's beautiful for a month.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2007 at 12:26PM
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I'll put a link below to a page I had bookmarked. Sedum is easy and you might want to give salvia another try. High Country Gardens is a good idea. They have lots of plants that need good drainage (like agastache).
What zone/state are you in?

Here is a link that might be useful: Perennials which will grow in poor soil

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 10:26AM
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Here's the link for High Country Gardens. You can look through their catalog online. There's a lot of stuff in there I'd like to have but my drainage is not good enough for some things, especially in the winter. Many plants that they carry are long-blooming so that's a plus.

Here is a link that might be useful: High Country Gardens

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 10:40AM
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