Drought-tolerant plants are a reality growers need to accept

For nursery and greenhouse growers, the crops they cultivate are often dictated by consumer demands and directly related to design trends proliferating throughout other business sectors. But crop cultivation might soon be dictated by an environmental need for more drought-tolerant plants.

According to Michigan State University, “Drought-tolerant plants have built-in features to minimize water loss and maximize water uptake.” Some of those features include:

  • Reduced leaf areas and smaller leaves and needles,
  • Indentations between the lobes to reduce the leaves’ surface area,
  • A waxy or hairy-like coating,
  • And deep root systems to pull moisture well below the surface.

While garden centers, nurseries, and big-box stores have increased their inventory of drought-tolerant plants, predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have revealed the need might become greater.

The NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Weather Service, predicts prolonged and persistent drought in the West, where below-average precipitation is likely, and above-average temperatures for most of the U.S. and beyond the Canadian border.

NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., says, “NOAA’s Spring Outlook helps build more weather and climate-ready nation by informing local decision-makers and emergency managers of this spring’s hazardous weather, such as extreme drought. In addition, NOAA’s seasonal outlooks provide advanced warning of the conditions to come, enabling communities to make preparations that boost their resilience to these hazards.”

With droughts growing more and more common, even in parts of the country traditionally unaffected by such conditions, and homeowners more aware than ever of the realities of climate change, they’ll be looking for trees, plants, and shrubs that are drought-tolerant for their landscapes.

Jon Gottschalck, chief, Operational Prediction Branch, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, says, “Severe to exceptional drought has persisted in some areas of the West since the summer of 2020, and drought has expanded to the southern Plains and Lower Mississippi Valley. With nearly 60% of the continental U.S. experiencing minor to exceptional drought conditions, this is the largest drought coverage we’ve seen in the U.S. since 2013.”

Many scientists believe that continual droughts will become part of our normalcy in the years to come, and nursery and greenhouse growers will need to pivot the trees, shrubs, and plants they choose to cultivate in order to satisfy this reality.

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