Marianne Binetti

Marianne Binetti: Sedums ideal for dry weather

Sedums come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.
Sedums come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Staff file, 2009

As the August sun continues to shine, readers want suggestions for plants that do well on rainfall alone.

This week we feature shrubs, trees and ground covers for low-water-use landscapes. As always, these plants need extra water, mulching and care the first summer after the are planted. Even drought resistant plants need time to establish a good root system before they can survive on rainfall alone.

Pine family

There are many sizes of pine trees and many grow too large and too fast for the average home landscape. The dwarf mugo pine are hard to kill and look adorable at the nursery in their one-gallon plastic pots but give them room — dwarf means this pine can grow 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide. To create an evergreen and very hardy background look for the Austrian black pine or the slow growing Oregon green Austrian pine. Pines will adapt well to dry summer climates and our native birds love them as a source of food and shelter.


This family of prickly shrubs comes in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors but the best of the new introductions has to be the barberry orange rocket with bright orange foliage and a tall and narrow growth form — it looks like a rocket ship ready for takeoff.

The formal shape needs no pruning and barberry adapts to life in a container as well as surviving the heat reflected from a hot south- or west-facing building. There also are tidy and compact golden nugget barberry that grow slowly to a foot tall. Plant a row of these to outline a lawn or use one in the center of a dark blue ceramic pot. There are fast growing barberries with deep purple and pink splattered leaves. Barberries are deer resistant and a burglar deterrent if planted near windows.


Also called heavenly bamboo, this evergreen is not related to the true bamboo family so it will never spread or send out runners to take over the landscape. Nandina comes in dwarf forms like harbour dwarf heavenly bamboo that stay under 2 feet tall. Use the dwarf form under low windows or in front of taller shrubs.

There are Nandina with dramatic foliage color, such as Nandina sienna sunrise (red leaves) and Nandina plum passion (purple leaves) and many more with peach and orange tones in the foliage. The fine texture of the bamboo-like leaves make this shrub a good one to use for up lighting against buildings or under trees in dry shade.

Tip: If a severe winter causes the foliage to look weary on your Nandina, just cut it back to within 6 inches of the ground in the spring. Fresh new growth will appear by summer and a severe pruning can give tall or rangy plants a more compact shape.


Sedum autumn joy and Sedum Angelina: Thick, succulent leaves make all members of the large Sedum and succulent family well known for their ability to store water during times of drought. The most common in Western Washington are winter hardy sempervirens or hen’s and chicks.

Most Sedums need very little soil to thrive so are used in vertical gardens and growing out of leather shoes and other novelty containers. For outstanding beauty and structure in the late summer and fall garden, grow the upright Sedum autumn joy with the bee attracting flat panicles that start green, then bloom pink until fading to a rusty brown in the fall.

To crowd out weeds and as a bright ground cover chose the Sedum Angelina with a low growing or trailing habit and bright yellow foliage.

Tip: Sedums are about the easiest perennials to multiply. Snip off a section of stem, remove some of the lowest leaves closest to the cut then poke the cut end into the soil. Sedums root even sooner if you allow the cut stem to dry 24 hours before poking it into soil.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at