Late summer and fall are the time when Brown-Eyed Susans, Black-Eyed Susans, and other members of the genus Rudbeckia come into their own. This year has given us a chance to consider how some of these species perform in a year of moderate drought and with no supplemental water provided.

Brown-Eyed Susan

Let me be up front with my own bias: Brown-Eyed Susan (R. triloba) is by far my favorite Susan. To my mind, nothing beats those masses of golden daisies with small, rounded rays (petals). It can grow up to 5 feet and get bare knees but if that bothers you it responds very well to being cut back for a more compact habit.

Brown-Eyed Susan close up

Anyhow, Brown-Eyed Susan stood up to our August-September drought pretty well. Flowering remained profuse and foliage looked normal. A few individual plants in exposed areas did go somewhat droopy or brown, but those were rare exceptions.

Cutleaf Coneflower still pumping out new flowers

Ask Cutleaf Coneflower (R. laciniata) about our drought, and the response you’ll get is “Drought? What drought?” This big clumping Coneflower, which showed up in the garden on its own initiative (as far as I can remember), is not easily slowed down by a lack of rainfall.

Grass path between two beds in the front garden. Brown-Eyed Susan to the left, Cutleaf Coneflower to right.

In fact, it kept pumping out blooms long after the first flush of flowers were going to seed.

Cutleaf Coneflowers

We have only three Rudbeckia species in the garden, and the last of these had the hardest time this year. It could be painful to watch the frequently droopy leaves of Black-Eyed Susan, or Orange Coneflower (R. fulgida). Sometimes the leaves or even the flowers got crispy. Black-Eyed Susan is probably the most common garden Rudbeckia, especially the popular cultivar ‘Goldsturm’. It’s relatively compact habit is, perhaps, one reason why this Susan is fairly ubiquitous.

Black-Eyed Susan had a harder time this year

Very happy to have all three of these Rudbeckias in the garden, even when they do struggle a bit. Also happy to say that we had a long, soaking rain last night. We may also get a couple days of rain later in the week. That should help with fall planting/transplanting in a week or two.

35 Comments on “The Susans Cope With Drought”

  1. That is the saving grace of the Brown eyed Susans. They never wear out. They always look good. Doesn’t matter if there is too much rain or not enough (to our eyes) they keep on… I see those sea oats hanging out there over the path. They too thumb their noses at what ever weather is thrown at them. ha.. Cheers…

  2. Jason, here in a Kentucky, we went 12 days without rain but were blessed with a good soak yesterday and now (2 hours before first Presidental debate) an unexpected downpour! What does that mean?
    I’ve had all three Susans you mention. Black-eyed Susan is everywhere but does provide a nice pop of color in the glory days of summer. Since I’m in the throes of tackling dreaded bindweed the black-eyed gals are pretty easy to pull up. Ratibida sprung up in my back yard this year beside verbena bonariensis. So, another yellow/purple pairing.

  3. I’ve been moving plants, so kept them watered before and after transplanting because, yes, it has been a dry summer. Re your volunteer Rudbeckia, I have a few surprises that apparently hitchhiked into the garden with other plants ordered online, like a lone rattlesnake master, some golden rod, and I think a yellow coneflower of some sort. Bonus!

  4. I don’t know how they manage to perform so well and look so lively in such dry conditions! Quite miraculous. Those lovelies are on my shopping list for next year.
    I never heard the term “bare knees”… I love it, and will use it from now on. I hack my Aster early in the season so they wouldn’t get too leggy and fall over. This tactic has the added bonus of a bushier plant with more blooms.

  5. I only grow the last one, and it does really well in the Sunshine Bed in drought! That bed hardly ever gets any water from me and we had periods of no rain at all for three or four weeks, and then just enough to moisten the surface of the soil. I suspect yours had just got used to having more water in a normal year. If it has to face another very dry year it might do better now. I have heard that trees ‘learn’ to cope with drought, so am sure plants do too.

  6. Those Rudbeckia are beautiful, Jason. Yes, drought is getting to be a real factor in plant selection these days, that and deer resistance. With some plants, even though they received plenty of water, they did not like days on end of searing sun and high temperatures, preferring cooler days.

  7. ‘Drought’ is overrated. This region seems to get a ‘drought’ annually. People do not seem to realize that it is our natural climate. None of the Susans would be so happy here without some degree of supplemental irrigation, even during a normal year.

  8. Of course I enjoyed seeing these ‘relatives’ of our native R. texana growing so happily in your garden! The black-eyed Susans are ubiquitous on our prairies, and do quite well through the flood/drought cycles, so I’m not surprised that yours have done well in droughty conditions. They’re so immensely cheerful, and they always make me smile — my smile’s even larger looking at these.

  9. Hello Jason, it’s interesting to hear how these three different Rudbeckias perform differently in dry conditions. We’re planning to have some in the final large border in the garden when I get around to making it next year, I hope it looks even half as good as your picture of the borders along the grass path in the front. Simply stunning.

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