Drought-Tolerant Garden : How to Create One

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January 2018
By Rebekah White
If you live in one of the drier areas of the country, you no doubt have found yourself at a crossroads when it comes to your landscaping. Is it better to neglect the lawn entirely, and allow it to wither under the hot summer sun? Or should you attempt to find a few drought- tolerant plants and see how they fare under the arid conditions?
Luckily, it’s not impossible to plant a luscious garden in the middle of a drought. Many species of plants are remarkably skilled at retaining and conserving water, and can hold their own against the driest conditions. Whether you live in the middle of the desert or, like many of us, are concerned about what increasingly hot and dry summers will do to your existing garden, consider implementing a few of the suggestions below.
drought-tolerant garden

1. Do your research

Before you begin, be sure to heavily research your soil type and the growing conditions in your area. If you don’t know what kind of soil you have, bring a sample to a nursery or cooperative near you. If your soil type is undesirable, you can improve it by adding organic matter. This will help retain moisture and attract beneficial organisms that can improve fertility. If you’re still unsure of what to do, talk to a landscaper, who can help you choose the best plants for your lawn gradient or soil type.

2. Plan accordingly

As you walk around your yard, search for bare spots or areas that lack natural appeal. This will help you figure out where to begin planting and also which areas receive the most natural sunlight. Then, group plants according to their sunlight and watering needs. Grouping plants according to watering needs is especially helpful, as it will help you reduce the amount of water you need.

3. Take baby steps

Planting a drought-tolerant garden is leaps and bounds different from planting an ordinary vegetable or flower garden. You’ll have fewer green spaces and more that need different types of accents. Use rocks or mulch to add texture to your garden, and add more plants as you go.

4. Be forward-thinking

Don’t think about how the plants look before you’ve even transplanted them. In a year, or two years–in some cases, even in ten years–they will look completely different. Think about how your plants will develop and whether they will be in the way, or even interfere with underground utilities.

You should also think about how your plants will coincide with your existing or planned landscape features. For example, if you have a swimming pool or natural pond, you’ll need to work your landscaping around them. Don’t plant a succulent right in front of the entrance to your deck if you plan to install a pool next year.

5. Prep your lawn appropriately

Even dry, drought-tolerant lawns end up with unwanted plants. Make sure you weed and carefully mow any undesired green sections. Add a mulch or weed cloth over areas you intend to plant. This will help protect against erosion and remove any undesirable species.

6. Incorporate texture

Add some variety to your garden. Use rock, granite chips, or mulching to fill out bare spaces, and curve your garden so that it’s not a blocky, straight row. Curves add more natural appeal and help break up the pattern of your garden.

7. Choose the best possible plants

Whatever you do, make sure you research the plants you intend to transplant or seed. Know which plants are native and which are invasive, and ask your nursery for recommendations if needed.

Plants that are native to arid regions will have developed their own natural protections–such as water conservation–to allow them to thrive. Succulents or cacti such as Firecracker penstemon or Texas ranger are a great choice because they are native to desert climates and thus they survive in droughts. Sure, you can plant a non-native plant, but it is likely to die quickly, or become aggressive and outcompete your native plants.

And don’t forget wildlife! Have a good idea of which plants help pollinators, and which are attractive to pests.

8. Think outside of the box- or inside of it?

If you’re having trouble with your soil–perhaps it’s too rocky, or there’s just not enough space to actually plant in the ground–consider the incorporation of a container garden. Planting in containers allows you to accurately control the water these plants receive, and also take up less space. They are easier to winterize and can be brought inside if the weather gets too hot.

9. Consider the water

The easiest way to create a drought-tolerant garden is to pick drought-tolerant plant species. However, even these water-conserving miracles still need some water to survive. Therefore, have a clear plan in mind when it comes to watering. Don’t overdo it.

Plant a garden that is appropriate in size, relevant to your household and the time you can commit to it. Try to water at night to reduce evaporation and wind interference. Avoid heavy pruning and over-fertilization. Be aware of critical periods in your plants’ development that the will require additional watering, such as during transplanting and flowering. Use mulch and compost whenever possible, and consider installing a water-efficient drip irrigation system.

Remember that a drought tolerant garden isn’t just about the plants that you include. A drought-tolerant garden might also include rock formations, decks, and walkways–so be creative! In a dry landscape, it may seem more difficult to create a lush, verdant lawn. However, with a little bit of imagination and some insightful planning, you’ll be able to create a relaxing oasis—even in the driest of deserts.

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