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Our Native Plant Species 2019

Characteristics of Drought Tolerant Perennials

Source: Toronto Master Gardeners, Drought Tolerant Perennials: A Toronto Master Gardeners Guide

  1. Drought tolerant perennials share many of the following characteristics that, when established, enable them to withstand periods of prolonged drought.

  2. Many have silver or grey foliage, resulting from a coating of fine hairs on the surface of their leaves. These hairs reflect light and heat, and provide shade, thus reducing the amount of moisture lost to the atmosphere. Waxed or furry leaves, designed to keep plants cool and retain moisture, are also characteristics of many drought tolerant plants.

  3. Leaf size also affects moisture loss. Many plants that have adapted to dry conditions have small or narrow leaves to minimize the amount of exposed leaf surface. Thick leaves are another common adaptation. For this reason, fleshy, succulent plants, such as Sedum, are popular choices for dry locations.

  4. Root systems also affect drought tolerance. Perennials with large fibrous roots or deep tap roots are able to reach down into the soil to collect water and also store moisture for future use.


Most drought tolerant perennials grow in sunny locations and it is important to understand how light conditions are classified.

  • Full sun – plants require at least 6 hours of direct, late-morning/afternoon sun

  • Partial shade – plants need 3 to 6 hours of morning or afternoon sun, but should be shaded from the hot, midday sun.

  • Full Shade – plants can thrive with less than 3 hours of sun. A bright location that receives no direct sun would be classified as full shade.

Blooming Boulevards​ uses drought-tolerant native perennials for our boulevard gardens - this year's available selections are listed below:

Wild Strawberry
Fragaria virginiana - Low groundcover; shade/part shade/sun; spring; edible fruit.
Foxglove Beardtongue
Penstemon digitalis; part shade/sun; mid-height; late spring-early summer bloom.
Slender Mountain Mint
Pycnanthemum-tenuifolium; bushy (useful as border); part shade/sun; mid-height; mid- to late summer bloom.
White Snakeroot
Ageratina altissima - part shade; 30 - 60 cm high; upright clumping habit; late July-mid Aug blooms.
Evening Primrose
Oenothera biennis - upright clustered stems are100 cm tall; shade/part shade; summer bloom.
Lanceleaf Coreopsis
Coreopsis lanceolate - mid-height; sun; thin airy plant self-seeds and wanders through garden; blooms throughout summer.
Blackeyed Susan
Rudebeckia hirta - sun; mid-height; short-lived but renews by self-seeding; July-Aug blooms.
Greyheaded Coneflower
Ratibida pinnata - sun; 120+ cm tall thin stems; good plant for movement and emphasis; late summer bloom.
Grey Goldenrod
Solidago nemoralis - sun; height 80 - 100 cm; arching cluster of stems & thin leaves; clump forming; late summer/fall bloom.
Stiff Goldenrod
Solidago rigida - grows 100 cm tall, best in poor dry soil; stiff upright stem cluster; fall blooms, leaves turn pink in fall.
Butterfly Milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa - sun; 45 - 100 cm high; must have well-drained soil; long-lived; bushy; summer bloom.
Canadian Columbine
Aquilegia canadensis - part shade/sun; mid-height; spring blooms; self-seeds and wanders through garden.
Dotted Mint
Monarda punctata - Full sun; needs dry well-drained soil; 30 - 60 cm H; pink "petals" are actually bracts; blooms throughout summer.
Bigleaf Geranium
Geranium maculatum - Low bushy 30 cm H; groundcover; neat mounding border plant; shade/part shade/sun; spring bloom.
Bee Balm
Monarda fistulosa - sun/part shade; dry to medium moisture preferred; upright stems bushy; will self-sow; 100 cm H; mid-summer blooms.
Purple Coneflower
Echinacea purpurea -
Blazing Star (Gayfeathers)
Liatris spicata -
Smooth Aster
New England Aster
Bottlebrush Grass
Elymus hystrix - airy stems up to 120 cm tall; shade/part shade; summer blooms.
Sideoats Grama
Little Bluestem
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