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Xeriscaping in Atlanta

Posted by Hyperboy Georgia (My Page) on
Mon, Oct 24, 05 at 13:49

I am a complete beginner to Xeriscaping. I wouldn't even be posting this long message had I not just returned from a fantastic week in Colorado Springs. I brought a number of plants back with me. Most are considered weeds in Colorado, but they're beautiful to me and I'd like to see if I can get them to grow here in Atlanta.
Here's a list of what I have. I apologize for not knowing the names of most of these plants, but I'll do my best to describe them.

THIS one I know. It's called Wild Aster and it was in bloom during my October 10-17 stay. The flowers are a nice, vibrant purple. I brought back a half dozen live plants and a baggy filled with dried flower heads.

I have a baggy filled with seeds from a plant that I recall having broad, flat leaves at its base. It sends up a 6" spike that's at least 2" in diameter and covered with downy seeds. The seeds themselves resemble dandelions, only larger. Each flat, black oblong seed is about half an inch long. It's topped with a down-like parasol to catch the wind. I THINK this plant bears purple flowers.

I have a half dozen live plant from the sage family. They were still actively growing. The plant is very low-growing, no more than 2-3" tall, and the leaves are delicate and feathery. I also have a baggy of dried flower heads, which are set on a 6" tall stalk. I think the flower itself is yellow.

I have a handful of live plants which I think also belong to the sage family. They're 6-10" tall and slender. What few leaves are present are a pale grey.

I recognize wild roses. I dug four of these from the side of an unused trail. I also have a handful of rose hips.

I have two specimens, carefully dug from a crevice in a rock ledge. The plants have a woody stem, small dark-green, shiny leaves and bright red berries. The hug the rock and seem to cascade down over it.

I have one specimen of a very large shrub (24-36"), which was also growing in a rock crevice. This plant had long since lost whatever leaves it had, but the small pea-sized flower heads look like cotton bolls.

Finally, I collected the very small, dark orange seeds from a woody, spindly shrub I found growing on a hillside in a field of dried grass. I'd say the shrub or bush grows about 36" tall.

OK, that's what I brought back with me. I've planted all the live material in small pots and I'm already seeing new growth.
My major concern is how these plants from an arid region will adapt to the Atlanta climate. All of the plants had significant tap roots, but will new plants put down tap roots if water is readily available?
Do I need to add gravel to my garden soil to improve drainage? I'd hate to have these plants rot and die from too much water. I don't know if they'll thrive here, or fail.
I could use some advice.


Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Xeriscaping in Atlanta

All I gotta say is--I'm baffled. The whole point of xeriscaping is using arid-adapted plants in desert areas so that you're not wasting water, effort, etc., on plants that are marginal at best in a dry climate. In short, it's about climate-appropriate gardening. Growing arid plants in Georgia is pretty much the opposite...

Patrick Alexander

RE: Xeriscaping in Atlanta

I completely understand your bafflement. It's just that these plants are so unique, I was wondering if I could get them to grow in Atlanta.
It gets VERY hot here in the summer and we can go through periods of drought, but certainly not the extended arid conditions found out West.
Even if I don't supplement these plants with water, they'll be receiving more moisture than they're used to.
I guess my question is simply this: Can these plants adapt themselves to Atlanta?
I gathered most of them from my brother's place outside of Colorado Springs, and I was hoping to create a small space that would remind me of him.

PS: By the way, I took about 150 root cuttings of pachysandra from my back yard, to supplement 100 plants I gave him when he was here in the spring. They seem to be doing OK for him, although he needs to put them on a drip system along with many of his other plants, shrubs, and trees. I was hoping I'd have similar luck back here.

RE: Xeriscaping in Atlanta

With arid plant survival in moister climates, the short version is: it varies. In some plants, the only danger is root rot, and in this case they'll accept as much water as you give them if there's enough drainage. In others, a dry dormant period is required; a lot of shrubs fall into this category, and can't survive constant moisture even if drainage is perfect. I've heard of people putting transparent canopies (clear plastic or the like) over arid plants in order to simulate dry periods outside, but I don't have any experience with this personally...

Regarding the plants you collected:

1. is more likely than not Machaeranthera; probably quite easy to grow.

2. sounds a bit like Liatris, but I'm not sure.

3. sounds like it's probably an Artemisia (sage brush, but actually related to sunflowers rather than true sage).

6. probably manzanita, genus Arctostaphylos, and most likely kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) or a closely related species. Some of the other manzanitas are very difficult outside their native climate, but kinnikinnick is supposed to be one of the more adaptable ones...

The others don't sound familiar offhand. Kinnikinnick, Machaeranthera, Liatris, & Artemisia are all cultivated reasonably frequently, so there's probably some information around online about them.

Patrick Alexander

RE: Xeriscaping in Atlanta

Thank you SO much for helping me identify some of my plants.
I think you nailed most of them.
#1 Looks to be Machaeranthera tanacetifolia. The leaves seem to be fairly thick and ribbed and I think I've matched it to a picture on the net.

#2 Does in fact look like the pictures of Latris I've seen. I'm wondering if mine is Liatris spicata, (Gayfeather), since the flower stalk is very thick, but it consistently topped out at 6".

#3 The Artemisia appears to be a dead ringer for Artemisia frigida, aka Fringed Sage or Prairie Sage(wort). This is a very low-growing plant, which should spread on the surface here in Atlanta.

#6 Is definitely a Manzanita Arctostaphylos, aka kinnick kinnick. Didn't native Americans use this as a ceremonial smoking mixture? I seem to recall the name.

Here's a web address for one of the pictures of the Machaeranthera.

The dried, leggy grey-green shrub in the background looks EXACTLY like #7, the plant I carefully pulled from a rock crevice. Do you have any idea what it could be?

Even if you don't, I want to thank you for your time. It's a pleasure to work with someone who's so willing to share his knowledge.


RE: Xeriscaping in Atlanta

I'd like to run this past the people on this forum.
Plant #4 looks like a sage. I found it growing alone or a few stalks together and it looks fairly spindly. It's about 2-3' tall and has a few, narrow, very light grey leaves.
It looks like the pictures I've seen of Artemisia ludoviciana, aka Western Mugwort and Prairie Sagebrush. Does anyone think this grows in the Colorado Springs area?

RE: Xeriscaping in Atlanta

A few thoughts.

Perhaps "xeriscape" in Atlanta would be mostly native plants to the S end of the Piedmont, with some non-invasive adapted from similar cliamtes (Korea, Japan, SE Australia?). Also do not rule out Gulf Coast yuccas hardy to Atlanta for scupture interest.

As far as xeriscape plants from Colo Springs (or other high plains / high desert locations), it is the flip side of us in Albuquerque with wet climate plants. For Atlanta (ditto Wash DC, Raleigh, etc), they are probably best limited as a special area that is unusually sloped, sunny and dry, where as we would place your humid SE plants like southern magnolia, windmill palm, india hawthorn in unusually wet, concentrated oasis places.

Last, something I see is that wet climates (+wet soils) are effectively cooler within the same USDA hardiness zone, so even though Atlanta and Albuquerque are both Z 7, we can grow A FEW of the same dryland plants that south Alabama can only get away with in your region. (think Agave americana, Nerium oleander, etc)

Ultimately, dryland plants used in a humid region landscape are novelties, though they can be well-used and enjoyed.

RE: Xeriscaping in Atlanta

I remember being struck by the Magnolia grandiflora in Atlanta, but that is a bit more than a shrub!


I'm sorry about that. That reply should have gone on another thread!

RE: Xeriscaping in Atlanta

I used to have a xeriscape in Kentucky near Louisville in zone 6a or b i forget. I grew lots of cacti and agaves and also grasses and many other dry land perennials from arizona, new mexico and nevada. I ordered form the plants of the southwest in Sante Fe and another in Santa Fe, I forget. Kentucky has a very hot humid summer with little rain in late summer Spirng is very wet as is Winter.and a temperate wet humid winter -much like Atlanta , just about ten degrees colder and more cloudy days in the winter. The point I am making is tht you can have a Xeriscape in Atlanta , just provide good drainage. I now live in the Upstate of South Carolina, a climate just like Atlanta, actually HOtter! anyway try some Agave parryi, Americana protoamerica-get huge here- I also grow lots of Yucca and many other Agave here.

RE: Xeriscaping in Atlanta

Have a new garden that was all red clay in Kennesaw, GA. Landscaper amended it to about 1/3 soil conditioner. I want to plant Phlomis Russeliana which requires "well drained soil." Should I add sand? What ratio? Landscaper said to amend each plant hole as I aquire plants.

RE: Xeriscaping in Atlanta

First of all, if you have a digital camera you may want to post some pics on the "Name that plant" forum and see if you can get any positive ID's.

I'm from New Orleans and I now live in Pueblo, Co. (Thanks to Katrina)and I'm learning all about Xeriscaping. Two ideas come to mind -
1. Grow the plants in containers so you can control the amount of moisture they get.

2. Create a microclimate for the plants by adding sand to the area that you're planning to plant them in to improve the drainage so they don't have wet feet.
I grew a lot of arrid plants in the ground in New Orleans and they were fine because I usually didn't water them between rains. I'm planning to put in a couple gardens here with plants that require more water than xeriscape plants, but I will put them by themselves so I can water them more often and not mess up my xeri plants.

Have fun with your new babies!

RE: Xeriscaping in Atlanta

You can xeriscape in the Southeast, but you'll have the most success with plants adapted to our climate. (I live in NC and grew up in GA.)

There are many native grasses, succulents and shrubs adapted to dry microhabitats in the Southeast -- such as Yucca filamentosa, a few Agave varieties, prickly pear (Opuntia), Sedums, red cedars, etc. Most of these varieties can be found growing near large rock outcrops in the Piedmont and sandhills near the coast.

Plant Delights, a mailorder nursery near Raleigh, NC, sells many varieties of Agaves, Yuccas and other xeric plants that should grow in Atlanta. In most cases, however, you would need to heavily amend your soil with coarse sand and other materials to improve the drainage. Poorly drained soil is a particular concern during winter.

I have had good success growing ice plants, yuccas, sedums and various ornamental grasses with minimal soil amendments in North Carolina.

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