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Sunday - August 28, 2011

From: Dennis, MA
Region: Northeast
Topic: Drought Tolerant, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Drought tolerant plants for MA
Answered by: Anne Bossart


We have some very very poor soil at our house on Cape Cod and are looking for plants that will take low water and sandy soil. Also we are high on a hill and quite exposed to the elements. The plot gets about 70-80% sun and is front of the side of the house that faces south. I know many people think of Rosa rugosa as native but we'd like to avoid using it as it considered invasive in some New England States.


You are right that Rosa rugosa is not a North American native, but is native to Asia.  It is widely used in your part of the country as in its native habitat it grows near the coast often in sand dunes and is salt tolerant.

There are some other roses native to your area that would be suitable

Rosa acicularis (Prickly rose)

Rosa carolina (Carolina rose)

Rosa setigera (Climbing prairie rose)

as well as other shrubs, grasses and perennials.  Grasses are particularly well suited to conditions like yours as they have fibrous root systems. You can search our Native Plant Database to find these plants by doing a Combination Search for Massachusetts and selecting your conditions (sunny and dry).  You can generate lists of each plant type you are interested in that have links to more detailed information for each plant.

Some of the plants we think would be suitable are:

Ceanothus herbaceus (Redroot)

Physocarpus opulifolius (Atlantic ninebark)

Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac)

Ammophila breviligulata (American beach grass) (although this may be too aggressive to be a good choice)

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)

Sporobolus heterolepis (Prairie dropseed)

Although you will ultimately be limited by what is available in your nurseries there are also many perennials to choose from.  Read the descriptions (especially growing conditions requirements) and only try the ones that are adaptable to many soil types. Also take your cues from nature and have a look at what is doing well in other gardens in your area.




From the Image Gallery

Prickly rose
Rosa acicularis

Carolina rose
Rosa carolina

Climbing prairie rose
Rosa setigera

Ceanothus herbaceus

Atlantic ninebark
Physocarpus opulifolius

Fragrant sumac
Rhus aromatica

American beach grass
Ammophila breviligulata

Panicum virgatum

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

Sorghastrum nutans

Prairie dropseed
Sporobolus heterolepis

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