Monday, August 22, 2022

Plants for the Unwatered Crevice

 Several friends' inquiries made me realize this was needed. So here it is. 

These are species I have grown without irrigation, in crevice. I am sure there are more. There are a few things that seem to require being in either/both crevice and unirrigated. 

Know that a "rock garden plant" is subjective, and usually comes down to size and habit being appropriate with your rocks. Plenty of these are too large for a small crevice garden with small rocks and are noted as such. As with any unirrigated garden, performance and show will vary with rain and weather year to year... just like nature. 

Keep in mind that different parts of a crevice garden receive/repel more or less runoff, so plants specific to those are noted. Soil type effects things, too. Generally silt and clay hold more water longer. Also know that all plants will need supplemental (at least weekly) irrigation the first season to get established. 

Also know that Bob Nold’s ‘High and Dry” is basically an encyclopedia of plants that can grow without irrigation in Denver (and this classic book has a rock garden plant chapter). We are a little more limited over here in the hotter/drier Grand Valley.

So here it is. 

If this is useful to you, I recommend saving it to your computer before practical blogs, like this one, get buried or are left unsupported.

Plants for the unirrigated crevice garden in Colorado. 

(below 6000’asl, like Grand Junction and Denver)

Flower power

Castilleja integra, sessiliflora. C. miniata in shade/wetter. 

Physaria ovatifolia, fendleri, arizonica, and most others but alpina.

Phlox nana (not a tiny plant, it creeps.)

Phlox hoodii (tiny)

Scutellaria resinosa (in a wetter spot, Denver not GJ, not tiny)

Melampodium leucanthum (not tiny)

Zinnia grandiflora (spreads a lot, large gardens only- it will eat your small CG for snack)

Arenaria desertorum hookeri (seems to like afternoon shade)

Astragalus utahensis (short lived with organics in soil)

Astragalus spp, so many other western ones.

Heuchera pulchella, abrahmsii, rubescens, even ‘Firefly’ (in deep shade and or with good runoff)

Ephedra minima/monosperma/regeliana in Denver, not GJ. Spreads by rhizome!

Liatris punctata- maybe too large for small gardens.

Phemeranthes (Talinum) brevifolium, parviflorum, calycinum, sediforme  (capricious, sometimes brief.)

Lewisia nevadense

Oenothera caespitosa (up to 1-2’, some forms are rhizomatous, most are short-lived)

Oenothera howardii (up to 1’ wide)

Atriplex corrugata (Hates water, ultimately a short shrub, plant in early/late winter)

Woody lilies

Yucca nana

Agave toumeyana bella

Agaves, most hardy sp, let’s be honest. 

Nolina greenei is the smallest/hardiest “Beargrass” but big: best behind the CG.

Lil yellow daisies

Stenotus acaulis

Haplopappus armerioides

Tetraneuris (Hymenoxys) acaulis, scaposa, and argentea

Calylophus lavandulifolius, C. serrulatus

Heterotheca jonesii

Heterotheca ‘GoldHill’

Erigeron liniaris (may need to be low/wetter)

Lil other daisies

Townsendia hookeri (the best/longest-lived), T. glabella (big-ish), T. spathulifolius, T. incana, etc.

Erigeron tener (super)

Aster ericoides ‘Snow Flurries’ can be 2’ or more wide.

Erigeron compositus (come. to. daddy.)

Artemisia frigida- will get too big for some gardens. 

Buckwheats Yo

Eriogonum caespitosum, kennedyi, wrightii (small ssp), jamesii, pulchrum, and more.

Eriogonum umbellatum (ie Kannah Creek) in wetter/shadier spots in Denver

Eriogonum ovalifolium, all spp except niveum.

Eriogonum heermanii (ie, var sulcata) - fantastic. 

Some Eurasians for ya

Acantholimon spp, especially blue leafed ones, not alpine or green-leafed spp.

Limonium minutum

Goniolimon sp that fit in size.

There are surely countless others species yet to be tried…

Limonium minutum

Africans for the right spot: usually wetter

Aloinopsis spathulata

Nananthus transvaalensis

Escobaria sneedii (v leei)

Lil Cactus duh

Escobia sneedii, leei, orcutii, villardii, and probably any hardy sp.

Escobaria missouriensis, vivapara especially.

Mammillaria heyderi/maeiacantha

Echinocereus, most sp, where they fit. In Denver and wetter places, a slope or a rise help keep these drained. 

Opuntia fragilis, small forms like the “potato cactus”

Coryphantha sulcata- delicious.

I know there are more small cacti. South Americans tend to want irrigation. 

P. pachyphyllus


P. laricifoius, tiny, long-lived, hard to find.

P. alamocensis, barbatus, - big plants with wee shadows 

P. moffatii

I know there are many more...

Choice things/Crown jewels/hard to source/Oddballs

Astragalus spathulifolius

Castilleja scabrida

Penstemon acaulis- don’t you dare go pester this in nature.

Leptodactylon spp.

Lepidium nanum

Chaetopappa ericoides- good luck, witches.

Sphaeralcea caespitosa

Chaemachaenactus scaposa- long lived, hard to find seed.

Linum kingii- way cool.

Hoffmanseggia (Caesalpinia) repens. 

Cymopteris bulbosus. Takes years, hates water.

Worth a shot, I haven’t tried them (enough).

Lewisia rediviva

Artemisia assoana.

Erigeron elegantulus

Penstemon linarioides.

Stachys, fuzzy ones

Sideritis sp. 

Salvia… most fuzzy asian ones will probably do, but most are too large

Pterocephalus spp. Not in GJ.

Petrophytum caespitosum of desert provenance. 

Convolvulus boisseri, tragancanthos, etc. 

Phlox ‘Lemhi Gem’

Achillea, miniature spp. like serbica, ageratifolia.

Penstemon petiolatus- perhaps on a north side as it happens in nature.

I have not trialled enough Grasses

Bouteloua hirsuta (Denver, not GJ?)

Bouteloua ‘Zig Zag’ very worth a shot in Denver.

Lycurus pheoides (oh no, this one is good)

Muhlenbergia torryi, pungens.

Eremeoruruefurususus something. Fluffgrass. Annual or nearly so.

Aristida purpurea/longiseta. Often short lived and bad in dog fur.

Acnatherum hymenoides (1-2’ if you have space. Great. It’s been weedy for a rare few)

Hesperostipa comata- big translucent plant, no shadow. 

Buffalograss can work as a “skirt” but will invade/cover rocks in a rainy summer.

I know, I know, there is ruby muhly at Apex, but there is ample space and it gets a little water. 

Koeleria macrantha - someone should try it

Things you’d expect to go without water but won’t (usually)

Arenaria ‘Wallawa Mtn’ (it’s alpine and probably European, actually!)

Arenaria alfacariensis

Delosperma (with some exceptions… or they look bad when stressed. They need sun to be happy but need regular irrigation to be in sun…)


Sedums (lanceolatum, and a few others allegedly have done it)

Sempervivum (also been a report or two but I am dubious. They are usually alpine plants)

Half the Mesembs/Aizoaceae/Iceplant family, generally. They just haven’t persisted without regular, if minimal, irrigation. 

Erigeron scopulinus

Manfreda maculosa

Zauschneria (Epilobium), generally. I wish they did.

Chamaechaenactis scaposa

- - -
Wow, this blog platform is truly horrible to use now. When will we push back against the trend of AI/Clickbait/Advertisement taking over the internet and making it very hard to find good, real, in-depth information any more? How long will we tolerate the threshold being pushed towards us on this and other fronts? 


Hollis said...

Thanks, Kenton. Timely—I have a big project ahead. The City redid my street and now I have a LONG sidewalk (3 narrow lots) with dirt on either side with some kind of seed mix much of which washed away in a recent deluge. Oh ... and no water nearby. So I will be planting rocks for sure and adding plants. I had ordered your book, now will get Nold's also.
BTW your blog is ad-free when I view it (Chrome). In saving the page I did get a bunch of files for ads, which I tossed.

Heidi from DenverDryGarden said...

Thank you for this post! I have a hot sunny dry gravel berm with some crevices, I have killed there: Semps, Agaves, Aloinopsis (many), Veronica pectinata, Stomatium mustilinum, and many Delosperma (likely as you said too dry for them). I could make little gravestones with their nametags but ya know that would be truly depressing! RIP.

What lives and has worked so far for 2+ years, several that you list: Potato cactus, Echinocereus viridiflorus, Heterotheca jonesii (which is *chef's kiss*, Escobaria sneedii (both the OG and ssp leei), Sedum "Little Miss Sunshine" which is a Sedum kamtschaticum hybrid, Sedum "Lime Zinger", and Sedum "Wildfire", and Sedum "Angelina's teacup" (the last 3 from Chris Hansen's Sunsparkler series).

I am currently trialing in the death berm: Aloinopsis (again!), although Kelly was just here and said he finds they prefer a NE exposure toward the bottom of a hill), Armeria maritima 'Rubrifolia' which is so tiny and cute, it may be too thirsty though. I may try a "Blue lips" Penstemon which is a David Salman hybrid of Penstemon crandalii and Penstemon linariodes v. coloradensis. It's small and sweet, I have it growing well in a more forgiving area.

And of course I want to try many on your list, especially Linum kingii and Erigeron elegantulus.

Kenton J. Seth said...

Thanks Hollis; nice to hear from you. I think it's just generally getting harder to share and find decent information on the net, and by design...

I am surprised that Sedum at all are going unwatered, amazing! (Native S. lanceolatum is less surprising.)

I can see Penstemon Blue Lips being good...

Aloinopsis hybrids... they are not all made the same... some have a high percentage of weaker genes (but these often carry the fun colors) so, with time in cultivation, they are getting easier and easier... They definitely don't need crevice, but maybe time to get their big ol taproots down. Best plants I've seen are growing in flat gravel. And recent pics from PK visiting Africa show that's how they do in nature... Also, lots of folks (including me) report that planting them after mid sept can spell death. (they probably need more time to root down). Maybe the top factor is seed source- new, garden-collected seed from old, proven plants is measurably better than seed which has been in nursery forever. Of course a person can't tell by looking, unfortunately...

Ah- and- they need west sun to be open, so an east exposure may mean leaves but unopened buds...

Panayoti Kelaidis said...

Sedum sediforme (from Plant Select) hails from lowland Greece: xeric as heck. Great post, and a good compendium. You could have gone on and on with buckwheats and pents--E. pulchrum at APEX is unbelievable this year. I'll bet Moltkia will do with a bit of shade. Bukniczia was conspicuous by its absence. And surely you could have listed a FEW Acantholimons by species since these are the QUEENS of xerophycity. And there must be a spate of tough Campanulaceae, but I'm beating a poor dead little equine at this point..You are a champion despite your forgivable omissions! Keep it up! Great pix, BTW, Kenton! Loved seeing you last weekend.

David C. said...

Thanks for this well-thought out list for your high desert. I should make a list for a few zones in my region. Interestingly, Melampodium is small here in the arid Rio Grande valley of NM. I want to find / try Nolina micrantha and the actual Nolina texana, though the latter is still a bit large to fit, unless one has 3-4 feet. There are a few small xerophytic ferns and tiny agaves that might work here in z 8 or even 7b.