Here are five feature plants for areas with arid growing conditions: the golden barrel cactus, Yucca Filifera, yucca rostrata, glauca grass tree, and Queensland bottle tree. Each of these plants or trees has an unusual or highly attractive feature that will make a good showing in your garden.
In many areas of the world, people must walk long distances and carry water back to their homes in containers. Even in places where modern plumbing prevails, drought, climate change, and simple respect for the environment makes planning your garden so that it requires little to no irrigation is always a good plan. If these were not enough to encourage one to have an ornamental garden with low water requirements, it is just simply less work to grow plants that are hardy and that have low water requirements.
With that said, you certainly want interesting or attractive plants in your garden. A nice mix of tall, shady trees with lower growing foliage or flowering items makes for pleasant outdoor area that lends value as well as attractiveness to your home and grounds. These five plants, all available from our nurseries, certainly fill the bill on all counts.
Five Feature Trees or Plants for Arid or Low Water Growing
- Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) Cacti of all kinds are a top pick when planning a low-water or xeriscape garden area. Xeriscape gardening is defined as a style of ornamental gardening that focuses on minimal or no watering, as well as incorporating plants that are generally low maintenance. Originally a native of Mexico, the golden barrel cactus certainly qualifies as a feature plant that prefers minimal water, well-drained soil, and little or no maintenance. Because its original habitat has been largely lost to an important dam in Mexico, the golden barrel cactus is considered endangered in its natural habitat. Therefore, it is always a good idea to obtain it from a fully licensed, knowledgeable nursery such as ours. Many of our plants are grown on-site, and we make every effort to make sure that they are not only sustainably cultivated and harvested, but that the plants that we sell are healthy and pest free.
With that out of the way, golden barrel cacti make an attractive bedding plant or even a pretty houseplant. They resemble a chubby little ball with dark, green ribs. Out of those ribs grow golden colored spines which give the plant its name. It is also sometimes called mothers-in-law pincushion, compass cactus, golden ball, or hedgehog cactus. By any name, it is an attractive plant that requires little or no watering once it is established. Even in a pot, it does best if allowed to mostly dry out between watering sessions. Do be aware that it comes by its pincushion and hedgehog labels – it is a spiny plant with sharp points all over. Planted away from the edge of walkways, however, it makes an interesting shape, especially when offset with more grass like plants. It blossoms, and even puts on an edible fruit in season.
- Yucca Filifera (Yucca Filifera) Yucca plants of all sorts are perfect as feature plants for your garden. Yucca Filifera is one of the largest and fastest growing of all the yucca plants. As young plants, they look almost grass like, then they grow taller and look more like a pine branch or perhaps the kind of kitchen brush used to clean bottles. But when they are older, the long, narrow leaves pull downward and lay close to the stem. This creates a protective layer that eventually looks almost like a skirt. Yucca trees tend to be a little more flexible in their attitude toward water when compared to a cactus, such as the golden barrel plant. They will happily take advantage of rainfall or irrigation when it is available, but can easily handle dry times.
The tall bloom spike, which will be covered with waxy white blossoms in season, is a cornucopia for insects, birds, and even mammals. The nectar, pollen and even the blooms themselves invite swarms of happy diners.
- Yucca Rostrata (Yucca Rostrata) Also known as the beaked yucca, yucca rostrata is an exceptionally beautiful feature tree. It has bluish gray leaves that stand out in a spherical pom-pom from the ends of the branches when newly grown, but that droop down around the stem as the plant matures. In season, they put on a profusion of white, waxy blooms that are loved by hummingbirds and bees.
This yucca tree puts out multiple heads when adds to the amazing effect when it is in bloom since frequently each head will put up a bloom. Native to northern Mexico and southern Texas, it does very well in locations that have a wet spring and fall, interspersed with drier weather. Like most yucca plants, it prefers a lightly fertile sandy loam in a well-drained location.
Its leaves are a little softer and not as sharp as some of the other yucca plants, making it a good choice for beds near walkways or around pets and children.
- Glauca Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea glauca) The glauca grass tree, with its distinctive long, narrow bluish gray leaves is a true Australian native. It has a reputation for being difficult to grow, especially if harvested from the wild. This is because the glauca grass tree requires a specialized mycorrhiza in the soil around its root systems in order to make best use of soil nutrients. Without its growing buddy, these grass trees will sicken and eventually die. The solution is to purchase your glauca grass tree from a licensed nursery where not only will the sellers be sure that the earth that surrounds the roots of your tree has the correct mycorrhiza, but also will inspect for insects or unwanted fungus.
We have a beautiful glauca grass tree forest on our property and are licensed to harvest sustainably from it. It is an amazing place to visit, somewhat like taking a step back in time. When a glauca grass tree forest blooms, it resembles a crowd holding up tall, pale candles. Like the yucca plants, these grass trees put up a tall bloom stalk, but instead of the large, waxy blooms that appear on yuccas, these are studded with small blossoms that closely hug the stem.
- Queensland Bottle Tree (Brachychiton rupestris) Look no farther than this beautiful tree with its distinctive wine-bottle shaped trunk if you need a shade tree for a broad lawn expanse. The graceful bottle shape of the trunk is actually a water repository, so you can bet that this tree does well in climates where there is a short period of rainfall followed by a much longer dry season. Its limbs branch out from the trunk, creating a natural umbrella of small, dense green leaves.
When the bottle tree blooms, the small pink striped blossoms appear all over the canopy. It is much loved by bees, birds, and even some small animals. Adult trees can be successfully transplanted if you have the correct equipment – which is to say earth movers and a big truck. It takes some skill to do this, but it can be a way to save beautiful mature trees that just happen to be in the wrong place.
These are only five of the many lovely trees and plants that can be grown with minimal amounts of water and care. It is simply a matter of cultivating the trees and plants that are hardy and that enjoy climates that normally have little or no rainfall.