Why You Should Consider Installing a Drought Tolerant Garden

drought resistant garden

Depending on where you live, rising summer temperatures and dry weather can leave you looking at your garden in despair. Those gorgeous flowers you planted last year are dry and spindly or didn’t bloom at all. Perk up! While some of your usual favorites may not thrive in these conditions, there are plenty of drought tolerant (also known as heat-resistant) plants that can add beauty and color in the most arid conditions. 

As water shortages plague the U.S., you might be consciously using less water, you may want to lower your water bill, or you may live in an area with water restrictions. Regardless of the reason, drought tolerant plants come in many beautiful options.

While drought tolerant plants are low maintenance, there are still some important considerations. Let’s talk about the benefits, how to select the best plants for your beautiful drought tolerant garden, and how to take care of them.

The Benefits of a Drought Tolerant Garden

A heat-resistant garden offers several benefits:

  • Lower water bills
  • Reduced water use
  • Attractive plants with lower maintenance
  • More wildlife habitat
  • Less plant disease and more pest resistance
  • Deeper roots help both stabilize slopes and prevent soil erosion
  • More groundwater recharge
  • Less polluted runoff flowing into lakes, rivers, streams, and the oceans
  • Low maintenance

Ready? Let’s talk about some great plants and some important layout considerations.

Plant Selection and Layout

Once in the ground, drought tolerant plants require very little maintenance. But proper plant selection and groupings are vital for success. Here are things to consider when laying out your garden.

  • Amount of sunlight. Even drought tolerant plants can wilt under a blistering sun. Every species has a different requirement for sun exposure, so group according to need.
  • Hydro-zoning. This will greatly improve the odds that your garden will survive. Plant groups of species together based on their water needs. 
  • Add plenty of compost or mulch. This will help hold moisture in the soil while your plants are putting out new roots. Add at least 2-3 inches of mulch around the plant to hold in moisture and deter weeds. 

While the plants you choose will be drought tolerant, that doesn’t mean they don’t need any water at all. It is important to use deep irrigation in the first year so the plants get established. If you’re unsure how to lay out your new garden so it is properly irrigated, Rain Bird offers a personalized design service to remove the guesswork. And an automatic irrigation system like Rain Bird’s Raised Bed Garden Drip Watering Kit will become your best friend.

Selecting Plants

Drought tolerant or not, choose plants that are native to where you live. The USDA publishes a map of hardiness zones for the U.S., so look for plants that work for your zone. You’ll notice that most drought tolerant plants have smaller leaves with a waxy surface. This reduces how much sunlight the plant needs, which means less moisture loss.

Now, let’s explore some of the best perennial plants for your drought tolerant garden.

  • Creeping Thyme is a great groundcover. A creeping thyme lawn is not only drought resistant, but it also grows well in USDA zones 3-9, can be walked on, and rapidly spreads.
  • Coneflower thrives in almost any soil that has adequate drainage and grows in zones 3-9. Coneflowers also attract birds and butterflies. 
  • Catmint is perfect for borders in zones 3-8. They have aromatic flowers that attract butterflies and bees. It blooms from early summer to early fall and grows one to three feet tall and wide. 
  • Agastache has purple or white flower spikes, grows three to five feet tall, and is a favorite of bees.
  • Lavender. This aromatic plant grows in zones 5-10 and comes in many varieties.
  • Russian Sage grows in zones 4-9 and tolerates cold, drought, and poor soil as well. The lavish two- to five-foot stems of purplish-blue thrive in the sun. 
  • Artemisia has beautiful, slender gray to silver leaves on low mounds or arching stems from one to five feet high and wide. It’s especially tough and will grow in zones 3-8.
  • Veronica is easy to grow and has gorgeous white, purple, pink, or blue spikes with a long bloom time. They grow one- to two-feet high and love well-drained soil in full sun. 
  • Yarrow grows great in sandy soil in zones 3-9. These long-lasting flowers start blooming in late spring.

This is far from a complete list–there are many great heat-resistant plants to choose from. Consult your local garden center for plant recommendations for your particular zone.

Caring for Drought Tolerant Plants

Once drought tolerant plants are established, they can withstand long periods of dryness, going for weeks or even an entire season between deep waterings. Factors like soil conditioning, mulch, and weed control also help drought tolerant plants flourish. But drought tolerance doesn’t mean your plants need no water–correct watering is important, especially in the first year. 

Most drought tolerant and dry-loving plants do not like water on their stems or crowns. By installing a drip irrigation system, you can offset the emitters to keep the crown dry or get water directly to the roots of the plant. Do this by placing a piece of tubing from ground level to the base of the plant. Then, attach an emitter to the tubing to safely water your plant and keep the crown dry. Rain Bird offers a variety of drip irrigation tubing, connectors and emitters, and even kits to help you get started

The best time to plant a dry garden is between November and February. If you plant within that period, your plants will have a chance to establish roots before the arrival of the summer heat. If you want to start your dry garden right away, collect plants from local nurseries and keep them in a holding area in your yard until it’s time to plant them. This way, you can purchase plants when they are at their best in terms of flowering or foliage so you know what the plant will look like. 

Once you’ve planted, water plants weekly for the first year. After that, they can grow with just an occasional watering from your drip system, and you’ll find that many plants will thrive with only normal rainfall and no watering at all. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy your beautiful heat-resistant garden.

woman and man gardening

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