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Flavorful and Fragrant: 5 Top Drought-Tolerant Herbs to Plant Now

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Flavorful and Fragrant: 5 Top Drought-Tolerant Herbs to Plant Now

July 16, 2021

With water restrictions at an all time high in some regions (notably mine here in Marin County), it is especially important to consider your water usage and plant choices. At the same time, I totally get it that our gardens should be aesthetically pleasing and productive and give back to pollinators and beneficial creatures. Luckily, some herbs check off all those boxes, plus they are gloriously fragrant and flowering (not to mention they require no fertilizer as it can make them leggy, weak, and susceptible to losing their medicinal properties).

Please keep reading to learn which un-thirsty, multi-tasking herbs you should plant:

1.Rosemary

A rosemary hedge. Photograph by Liesa Johannssen for Gardenista, from Architect Visit: Barbara Chambers at Home in Mill Valley
Above: A rosemary hedge. Photograph by Liesa Johannssen for Gardenista, from Architect Visit: Barbara Chambers at Home in Mill Valley

Every drought-tolerant garden needs a rosemary plant. Especially if you live in deer county or spend a lot of time cooking or barbecuing. Some of the upright varieties like ‘Tuscan Blue’ make excellent unfussy hedge alternatives and room dividers, some low creeping ones like ‘Huntington Carpet’ are especially great at controlling erosion on a hill, and some are even being bred to be better for cooking because they have a higher oil content such as ‘Chef’s Choice’ and ‘Barbecue.” All rosemary plants are edible and deer-resistant, and prefer a full sun spot in soil that drains.

2. Sage

Photograph by Marie Viljoen from Quicksilver: \1\1 Plants for a Silvery Gray Garden.
Above: Photograph by Marie Viljoen from Quicksilver: 11 Plants for a Silvery Gray Garden.

This classic Thanksgiving herb is a cinch to grow in a sunny spot, and, lucky for those of us who live in water-challenged regions, if you give it too much water it will rot. To ensure its success, make sure your soil is well-draining by adding organic compost. Of course, you could also plant a sage plant in a pot, but make sure it has drain holes. Water weekly once planted, then less once established. Berggarten sage, specifically, is great in both recipes and the landscape. Its pungent silvery softness works well with other silver and bright green succulents, and is perfect in stuffing and anything with sweet potatoes. This plant grows to a compact 2-feet tall, and I recommend pruning it well in the spring to stimulate new growth.

3. Thyme

A profusion of thyme in the foreground. Photograph by Dana Gallagher, from Garden Visit: Mindful Neglect in Lindsey Taylor&#8\2\17;s Rambunctious Cinderblock Garden.
Above: A profusion of thyme in the foreground. Photograph by Dana Gallagher, from Garden Visit: Mindful Neglect in Lindsey Taylor’s Rambunctious Cinderblock Garden.

With over 300 varieties to chose from, there is a thyme plant for every landscape and culinary need.  These showy ground covers are excellent at softening edges of pavers and spilling over rocks and poking out of nooks and crannies. Most are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9, and all dislike wet conditions. Plant your water-wise thyme in well-drained soil and in full to part sun. Bees love the tubular shaped flowers ,and cooks love the variety of flavors to suit different cooking needs. Look for lemon and lime thyme, and know that French thyme is more subtle in flavor that English thyme.

4. Lavender

Photograph courtesy of Scape Designs, from \10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Provence.
Above: Photograph courtesy of Scape Designs, from 10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Provence.

This classic Mediterranean herb sports gray or gray-green foliage, woody stems, and magnificent spikes of purple, blue, pink or white fragrant flowers that bees utterly adore. Dried, the flowers are great in sachets; fresh, wonderful mixed into lemonade. English lavenders are the hardiest to USDA Zone 5, and French and Spanish are perennials through USDA Zone 8. All appreciate a warm, sunny spot with little water and super well-draining soil. Pro Tip: If you have clay soil, consider adding a handful of red lava or other small rocks to your planting hole to aid in drainage.

5. Oregano

A mound of flowering Spanish oregano grows in the sand on the Greek island Gavdos. Photograph by Frente via Wikimedia, from Gardening \10\1: Oregano.
Above: A mound of flowering Spanish oregano grows in the sand on the Greek island Gavdos. Photograph by Frente via Wikimedia, from Gardening 101: Oregano.

A tried and true herb is oregano because it so carefree and easy to grow in tough, sunny conditions and versatile in the kitchen, from Mexican to Greek and Italian food. A favorite variety that I add to more traditional garden beds is golden oregano, which grows in brightly hued low spreading mounds and sends up tiny flowers. All oregano is drought-tolerant once established, and you might want to trim down the flowers to maintain a lower profile. Pro Tip: harvest the leaves before the plant blooms for the most flavor.

For more on herbs, see:

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