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Drought Tolerant Landscaping


drought tolerant landscaping

Plants need a nearly constant supply of water. (They also need sunlight, carbon dioxide, and oxygen, but these are available almost everywhere.) Gardeners all across the world need to be mindful of drought tolerant landscaping depending on your location. In the United States, places like Florida, California, and Texas occasionally go through periods of drought with little to no rain. This frequently occurs during the summer months and can wreak havoc on garden plants if they are not watered properly.

More often than not, the lack of enough fresh water is what limits plant growth.


Drought Resistant Gardening Basics

rain gauge to determine water amount
Installing a rain gauge will help you determine how much water your plants are receiving and if you need to supply supplemental water.
  • The best way to defeat drought is to choose plants that are tolerant of drought. With a little research, you can find out whether a particular plant is drought-tolerant before you purchase it. The descriptions in Perfect Plants’ on-line catalog indicate which are drought tolerant plants. 
  • Plants that are native to your area should always be your first choice since these are already adapted to your normal rainfall and climate. Native plants are the best choice for areas with drought.
  • Determine the characteristics of your soil. Sandy soils drain rapidly, and only the most drought-tolerant plants will flourish in such soils without supplemental irrigation. Clayey soils hold water much better but can sometimes drain too slowly, causing roots to rot. Intermediate, loamy soils are just right for most plants. Poor soil can also cause plants to decline especially during dry spells.
  • Plants exposed to full sun will lose more water and lose it faster through transpiration and evaporation than those in partial sun or dappled shade. 
  • The longer a plant has been in its position, the larger (and deeper) its root system will be, and the more tolerant of drought the plant will be. Drought resistant trees can tolerate even longer periods of not watering. Their root systems will tap into the water beneath the surface of the soil.
  • Install a rain gauge! Monitor your rain gauge and become skilled at determining when the local rainfall has been adequate for your particular soils and plants. 
  • Get creative with your landscape design. A drought tolerant garden design doesn’t have to be boring! You have plenty of options for creating something magical like a rock garden, flowering plants that attract butterflies, or water garden.

Watering Basics

watering your garden during a drought
Most vegetable gardens need thoroughly watered every day or every other day during a hot drought period | Photo by Denise Krebs | Licensed by CC
  • Group the plants in your landscape by their water needs: (1) Plants that can be expected to need supplemental watering; (2) Plants that are drought-tolerant and almost never need more water than normal rainfall; and (3) Plants with intermediate water requirements. Install high water-need plants near where you spend the most time (and can keep an eye on them), such as a patio or pool. Create an oasis or focal point, perhaps including a water feature such as a fountain or pond. Drought-tolerant and intermediate plants can be more distant from the centers of people’s activity. 
  • All newly installed plants need to be watered every day or two until they get established. Create a depression surrounded by a little berm over the root zone.  We want our plants to develop deep root systems which will make them less vulnerable to drought. Water slowly rather than frequently. Large plants take longer to get established. All plants take longer to get established during hot, dry weather.
  • An overhead sprinkler system is the best way to water a lawn of turf grass. All other gardens, beds, borders, and specimen plantings are best watered with in-place soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems. You will need separate timer controls and drip lines in the different water-need zones.  
  • Drip irrigation systems are best. The water is applied directly over the roots with very little waste. Wind is not a factor, and there is no runoff. Use a timer to water automatically. Your experience will determine how long and how often to water, and this will vary with the season and weather. You can regulate the amount of water with scheduling and emitter size (expressed in gallons/hour). 
Treegator® Jr. Pro
Treegator can go around any small shrub or tree to provide adequate water.
  • The Treegator Pro is a great option for smaller trees when you are going out of town or not on a consistent watering schedule.
  • Get to know your plants and when they are starting to become water stressed. One sign of water stress is when leaves change from shiny to dull. If leaf tips turn brown, it’s probably due to not enough water. If leaves begin to wilt and/or fall off, a more drastic situation is indicated.
  • Feeder roots are concentrated near the outside edge of the drip line, so try to water from just outside the drip line (the edge of the plant’s canopy) to within a few inches of the trunk. 
  • Water in the morning or evening when evaporation and wind are at their lowest. Check with your local extension office for information about water conservation for dry conditions.
mulch around small hydrangea bush
A newly planted hydrangea bush is well mulched to help retain moisture | Photo by Chris Alberti | Licensed by CC
  • Maintain 2-4 inches of organic mulch over the root zones. A layer of organic mulch controls weeds, slows evaporation from the soil, moderates changes in soil temperature, reduces erosion, and adds organic matter to the soil when it decomposes. (More organic matter in the soil improves moisture retention and provides plant nutrients to the roots.)
  • Good organic mulches are hay, straw, pine needles, compost, shredded leaves, and shredded bark. Don’t use grass clippings because they degrade too quickly and remove nitrogen from the soil. Apply mulch in spring after soils have warmed but before they get hot. 
  • Are you watering your plants correctly? Find out in our blog!

List of Drought Resistant Plants

succulent gardens for drought
A beautiful succulent garden in California will thrive during drought | Photo by Jinx McCombs | Licensed by CC

All in all, drought should not restrain any gardener from being able to grow what they desire. With these tips and tricks, you can have your plants thriving all summer long whether they are easy to grow or not. Heat and drought are sometimes inevitable depending on your location and it is a good choice to pay attention to your climate zones to be a prepared gardener.

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