Plants for sunny and dry borders

Pink sedum flowers with green leaves

Once established, sedum is completely drought tolerant
Image: Sedum spectabile 'Brilliant' from Thompson & Morgan

A south-facing garden that gets plenty of light is a fantastic thing. But unrelenting full sun can be a problem for certain plants, causing them to wilt and struggle. The good news is that there’s a wide variety of plants that positively thrive in these sunny conditions. Read our guide to choosing the best plants & shrubs for areas of full sun.

Choose from our range of drought-tolerant plants that enjoy hot and dry weather. But don’t limit yourself to Sahara-style planting schemes. Provided you water regularly or set up an easy irrigation system, sunny borders lend themselves well to fruit and vegetable growing, prairie-style planting, sun-loving herbaceous perennials and colourful summer annuals.

How to care for sunny and dry borders

Mulching ground in garden for water retention

Mulching the ground around your plants will with water retention
Image: Shutterstock

Give your plants the best start by preparing the soil in sunny borders properly before planting. This means incorporating lots of organic matter – compost, well-rotted manure or recycled green waste for example. It will act as a sponge, helping your soil retain water, as well as providing essential nutrients. Plus, if you have clay soil the organic matter will aid drainage and prevent it from drying out and cracking on the surface.

Help your beds retain as much moisture as possible by adding a layer of decorative mulch such as bark, gravel, slate chips or pebbles. This stops precious water from evaporating and can help keep weeds down too!

When it comes to watering, give the plants in hot, sunny borders a little more attention. Focus on young plants and newly planted borders first as they’re most vulnerable. It’s better to water them deeply every few days, rather than a light sprinkling of water on a daily basis. This will encourage deeper rooting, and once established, many ornamental plants will fend for themselves.

Best bulbs, corms and tubers for dry and sunny borders

Peach and yellow dahlia flower in sun

Dahlias add gorgeous colour to hot, sunny borders
Image: Dahlia 'Gallery Pablo' from Thompson & Morgan

There are bulbs, corms and tubers to suit all sites and soil types. Here are some of our favourites for sunny and dry spots:

  • Aliums: Easy to grow, ornamental onions like these add height and structure to your borders. They like full sun and give you a wonderful assortment of flower shapes, sizes and colours. Superb for cut flower displays too.
  • Iris: Drought-tolerant bearded irises have exceptional resistance to disease and insects. The first flowers appear in spring, with a second flush in autumn. Hard-working, hardy perennials.
  • Lilies: Easy to grow and often fabulously fragrant. Plant these in autumn, either in full sun or semi shade.
  • Gladioli: Plant these sun-loving blooms in spring (and stagger the planting in batches if you can) to enjoy colourful, richly-scented blooms right through to early autumn.
  • Tulips: Tulip bulbs like to be planted in autumn in a position that will get full sun.
  • Dahlias: With Mexican origin, drought-tolerant Dahlias will cope well with hot, dry weather, blooming through the summer. Feed well, and protect young plants from slugs.

Best annuals for dry and sunny borders

Striped gazania flowers

Gazania tolerate both drought or windy, coastal gardens with ease
Image: Gazania 'Tiger Stripes Mixed' from Thompson & Morgan

One of the big advantages of sun-loving annuals is that many of them can handle drought-like conditions. The wide daisy-like blooms of Gazania provide fantastic summer colour and happily tolerate both full sun and wind. Osteospermum also flowers all summer long and is never happier than when the sun is at its hottest. Or what about the showy bedding plant, Senecio Cineraria, that produces a mound of finely divided silvery white foliage? Poppies, too, are an easy to grow hardy annual that love nothing better than a sunny spot.

If you want something with a heady scent, Sweet Peas or Stocks are a wonderful choice. In fact, our Stock 'Most Scented Mix' is particularly popular, thanks to its spicy clove-like fragrance and pretty pastel colours.

Meanwhile, for simple full-sun splendour, annuals don’t come better than the azalea-shaped snapdragon flowers of Antirrhinum ‘Double Madame Butterfly’. Other favourites include the reliable, creamy-coloured flowers of Marigold ‘French Vanilla’, easy to grow Petunias, and the vibrant trumpet-shaped flowers of Salpiglossis.

Best biennials for dry and sunny borders

Yellow, red and purple wallflowers

Tough and beautiful, wallflowers grow even in poor soil.
Image: Wallflower 'My Fair Lady Mixed' from Thompson & Morgan

For an early show of colour in your dry and sunny borders, plant wallflowers to bloom from February to June. An added bonus, these hardy plants are happy in full sun to semi-shade and can handle drought-like conditions. What’s more, they smell gorgeous too. An all-round winner.

Other popular biennials include Arctic Poppy and Sweet William, both making wonderful sun-loving additions to scented, wildlife and cottage gardens.

Best perennials for dry and sunny borders

Dark purple agapanthus flowers in containers

Agapanthus 'Black Jack' won Plant of the Year at 2023's Chelsea Flower Shower
Image: Agapanthus 'Black Jack' from Thompson & Morgan

Perennial plants offer a longevity that is attractive to all gardeners. Particular favourites like Helenium bring late summer colour to your garden when other blooms are starting to fade. Dianthus plants, meanwhile, are renowned for their scent. Here are some of the best summer-flowering perennials that are particularly easy to grow in drought-like conditions:

Best climbing plants for dry and sunny borders

Two flowers of passion flowers

Passion flowers are vigerous climbers and look great around trellis or fences
Image: Passiflora caerulea from Thompson & Morgan

Climbers can transform a garden. Wind them up trellises or fences, around tree trunks or shrubs, over pergolas and against walls. Wherever they go, they add colour, interest, and often sensational fragrance.

Take honeysuckle, for example. The scented flowers are a delight to gardeners and wildlife alike. Try ‘Fragrant Cloud’ which produces deep pink, spidery blooms from June to September that are replaced by shiny, plump red berries that birds love. Similarly, the Passion Flower, is a vibrant tropical climber that blooms in the summer, followed by (inedible) eye-catching egg-shaped, orange passion fruits later in the season.

Clematis is another popular, hardy choice. This plant can grow up to 3m high and provides a stunning summer display. Yellow Jasmine holds an RHS AGM for its superb garden performance as it can be trained into a climber or a freestanding shrub. The best bit? Planting it in a really sunny spot actually improves the fragrance.

Other great climbers include wisteria, for their scent and striking floral display, climbing roses, and the distinctive, lightly scented purple blooms of Potato Vines.

Best grasses for dry and sunny borders

Red pennisetum grass

Pennisetum looks great in patio pots or bedding displays
Image: Pennisetum x advena 'Fireworks' from Thompson & Morgan

Many grasses demand full sun and well-draining soil, making them perfect for your purposes. Varieties of Carex like hardy ‘Ice Dance’ and ‘Evergold’ thrive in full sun. The same goes for Dwarf Pampas Grass, which is a fully hardy perennial evergreen plant that produces narrow linear green leaves with white flowers from August to October.

Pennisetum Villosum 'Cream Falls', also known as Feathertop Grass, is one of the easiest and most visually stunning grasses to grow. With bright white rabbit-tail tops it’s quick to flower, you just need to remember to cut back old foliage in spring as new growth appears in the centre of the plant.

Trees and shrubs for dry and sunny borders

Orange helianthemum flowers

Helianthemum thrives in tough conditions
Image: Helianthemum 'Ben Mohr' from Thompson & Morgan

Shrubs are a hard-working addition to any sunny garden. Tough little rock roses like Helianthemum or Cistus are hardy, drought-tolerant and trouble-free, producing fantastic colour from late spring to summer. Plus, if you give Helianthemum a little attention and prune straight after flowering, you’ll get a second flush of blooms in late summer.

Lavender, a big, blowsy, bumble-bee-attracting plant is another shrub that doesn’t mind a lack of water while the sun shines. There’s a reason that it grows so well in the Mediterranean. If you want to keep yours neat and compact, just trim it back after it flowers.

Bees and butterflies will love Buddleja for its bright, deliciously-scented blooms. These are easy to grow in sunny borders, with a super long-flowering period, and some varieties even grow well in containers too. Other popular shrubs that cope well with full sun include Hibiscus and Rose ‘White Fairy’.

When it comes to planting trees, the Crab Apple is an obvious choice. It has a long season of interest including pink blossom in spring, followed by spectacular crops of bright golden-yellow fruits in autumn that remain well into winter.

Sun-loving edible plants

Flower on rosemary shrub

Herbs, like rosemary and sage, grow well in full sun.
Image: Rosemary 'Corsican' from Thompson & Morgan

Many fruit and vegetables need the warmth and brightness of full sun to produce a good crop, although they will also need watering regularly to achieve their full potential.

As a general rule all fruit and nut trees need to be planted in full sun, as well as soft fruit plants such as strawberries, raspberries and other berries. Lots of vegetables, meanwhile, are happy in the sun, from squash and sweetcorn to tomatoes and French beans.

Herbs are also big fans of sunshine, including Oregano, Sage, and Thyme. Rosemary is another devoted sun-lover that will happily grow in containers as well as beds.

We hope we’ve given you plenty of ideas for stocking your dry and sunny borders with plants that will reward you with year round interest. For more grasses inspiration and growing tips, head over to our hub - T&M's ultimate resource covering everything you need to know about planting and caring for ornamental grasses in your garden. Happy planting!

Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

Written by: Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.

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