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Drought tolerant landscaping is the creation of gardens and landscapes with a low water demand.
Contrary to common belief, drought tolerant gardens do not have to look like arid deserts. Even temperate regions such as northern North America and Europe can suffer long periods of drought during summer months.
This results in many gallons of fresh drinking water being used for landscape irrigation every summer. Unknown to many, the planets fresh water is a fast declining resource!
Of all the water on the entire globe only 2% is usable fresh drinking water. As the earth’s human population has doubled over the past 40 years fresh water demand is rapidly expanding!
Furthermore average temperatures rising year on year demand for fresh water is continuing to increase.
This has led to many environmentally conscious gardeners to reduce their water use.
Many millions of gallons of water is squandered on watering lawns and borders every year. This has accelerated a desire for more drought tolerant landscaping design. Not only can drought resistant gardens conserve water they can also reduce maintenance and look amazing.
In this article I will summarise drought tolerant landscaping and offer some drought tolerant landscaping ideas for your own garden.
What is drought tolerant landscaping?
Drought tolerant landscaping is creating gardens and landscapes which require little or no irrigation. Primarily this involves planting drought tolerant plants or native plants adapted to your area.
However, drought tolerant landscaping can also include water saving installations. Some of these can include water butts, mulching, drainage retention ponds and rain gardens.
Many drought tolerant gardens are designed with an arid or desert design theme. This makes it easy to incorporate drought resistant planting types like succulents and Mediterranean planting.
The extensive use of gravels and rocks reduce the need for lawns and defined flower borders. This dramatically reduces water consumption and lowers maintenance costs.
Such drought tolerant landscaping also helps to create warm microclimates and interesting visual textures.
Why create a drought landscape?
The easy answer is they can be extremely low maintenance and still look amazing! If well designed drought tolerant landscaping requires less watering, weeding, cutting and pruning.
By saving fresh drinking water you are also reducing your impact on the planet. Less use of mechanical gardening machinery such as mowers and clippers reduces energy consumption and consequently emissions.
Dry and arid themed gardens also help to create warmer microclimates and increase usable space in your garden.
Landscaping with rocks and gravels also means no walking mud and dirt around your backyard.
10 tips and ideas for drought tolerant landscaping
1. Create a Mediterranean garden
The Mediterranean region is well known for its warm weather and arid landscape. Nearly every plant adapted to these regions has a remarkable drought tolerance.
This makes Mediterranean gardens an effective design theme for drought tolerant landscaping. Not only will plants thrive without water, an emphasis on rocks and gravels will add visual texture and interest.
Such arid landscaping will also create an exciting holiday feel!
2. Harvest rain water run off
You may be creating a drought tolerant landscape to be eco-conscious or you may simply live within a dry climate.
Either way, harvesting fresh rain water runoff can be an effective idea. This can enable you to store water for watering later when plants need it.
Harvesting runoff from hard surfaces also stops water from running into flower beds. This can reduce excessive ground saturation in winter and drought resistant plants rotting.
3. Create a succulent garden
Succulent gardens are becoming an increasingly popular way to plant drought tolerant landscaping schemes.
These diverse group of plants have waxy coatings and fleshy leaves to store water in dry climates. Succulents come in a wide variety of interesting shapes, forms and colours.
Their easy to look after nature and interesting shapes make them perfect for drought tolerant gardening. If you live in an area with substantial rainfall succulents can be grown in well drained soil in terracotta pots.
4. Improve your soil structure
There are normally two main types of drought tolerant garden landscaping; gardens which receive heavy rain with a desire to grow drought resistant plants and naturally dry regions with hot summers.
Both scenarios will benefit from improving the soils structure. In areas with heavy rainfall in winter grit and coarse sand can improve soils drainage.
This can prevent drought resistant plants roots from rotting during the winter. In areas with very dry weather mixing in plenty of organic matter to soil can help to retain moisture during hot summers.
5. Plant at a high density
Planting plants at a higher density means less sunlight gets to the soils surface. This reduces it from drying out so fast during hot summers.
Such planting reduces the need for excessive watering during the growing season. Low growing groundcovers also have this protective effect on the soil making growing areas more drought resistant.
6. Create a rock garden
Rock gardens and rockeries are also a great idea for drought tolerant landscaping.
Rocks and stones allow more water to be diverted towards soil where plants are actually growing. Rocks also enable you to replicate landscapes that are typical of dry climates.
Rocky alpine mountain sides and dry rocky deserts are an effective theme for drought resistant landscaping.
Rockeries can be incorporated into mounds and raised beds around seating areas to create aesthetic displays.
Why not visit our step by step guide on creating a raised alpine garden?
7. Mulch your soil
Mulching the soil has two main functions when it comes to drought tolerant landscaping. Firstly, it prevents excessive sunlight drying out the soil during hot summers.
This can help reduce watering and make existing plants more drought resistant. Secondly mulch helps to retain moisture near the soils surface.
This enables the roots of plants to easily access water during even the driest summers. Mulches such as gravels also help to create an arid feel to your landscaping.
8. Create a desert garden
Desert gardens are a really exciting way to implement a drought resistant landscaping scheme.
Many varieties of drought resistant plants have fleshy leaves with dry waxy leaves. This is to store available water and prevent it escaping from the plant.
This gives the plants a cacti look and really benefitting a desert theme!
Rocks and dry gravel areas planted with plants like Agaves and succulents can also form excellent desert gardens.
Why not visit out full guide article on creating drought resistant desert gardens here.
9. Plant perennials
When it comes to drought resistant landscaping, perennial plants are an effective choice. By their very nature perennials come up every year re-growing from thick roots systems or bulbs.
Consequently, once established, they unlikely to be affected by long dry spells during the summer months.
Some perennials are more drought resistant than others; we have included some good species examples at the end of this article.
When selecting perennials for your drought tolerant garden, research individual species for their preferred climatic range and drought tolerance.
10. Change your gardens levels
It’s surprising how moderate alterations to a gardens gradient can have a dramatic impact on ground moisture!
By using falls and levels it is possible to manipulate where rain water flows too. This can be extremely advantageous when planning a drought tolerant landscape.
If your garden suffers from severe droughts slope your levels down towards planting beds. If your site is saturated during the winter months, plant drought resistant plants to the top of slopes.
Alternatively you can build raised beds which are too saturated during the winter.
11. Add a drainage feature
It may seem counter intuitive to create a drainage or wetland feature within drought resistant landscaping.
However, creating a drainage feature such as a swale or seasonally flooding pond can keep soil moisture more consistent. The problem with most gardens is their soil moisture fluctuates throughout the year.
This is due to excessive surface run-off and underlying ground compaction. Consequently a drainage feature which helps soil to drain can be advantageous.
This is especially so if drainage features fill retention ponds which can be tapped into during dry summers.
12. Create a herb garden
Many herbs have evolved over millennia to have aromatic aromas to their leaves. This was to repel browsing animals such as goats from eating them.
Many herbs come from arid climates with sparse vegetation meaning death by grazing was a real risk. The fact that such aromas made herbs more desirable to people is quite ironic.
The arid regions where many aromatic herbs originate are consequently quite drought resistant.
This makes creating a herb garden a great idea for drought tolerant landscaping projects.
13. Plant drought resistant plants
Probably the most effective way to execute a drought resistant garden is to plant the correct plants.
Drought resistant plants will enable you to have greenery and colour in the driest of summers. However, whether a plant is drought resistant or not will depend upon your climate and soil type.
Just because a plant can tolerate drought in Greece doesn’t mean it will thrive in a boggy UK garden! Consequently you should analyse other features of drought resistant plant species.
This includes soil type, climatic zones and minimum winter temperatures. Below I have listed 13 drought resistant plants for the UK and temperate climates!
13 Drought resistant plants for the UK
1. Sedum herbsfrude autumn joy
This perennial sedum is well known for its interesting foliage and attractive pink flowers during autumn.
Sedumn herbsfrude re-sprouts from its base every spring creating plenty of seasonal change. Its leathery leaves have a waxy coating which prevents moisture loss.
Like most sedums Herbsfrude stores water inside their fleshy leaves making them perfect for drought tolerant landscaping. This plant is extremely adaptable being able to tolerate many different climates and soil types.
Autumn joy is also very low maintenance but will require the removal of the previous season’s foliage in winter.
Agaves are very impressive architectural plants which have very decorative and architectural foliage.
Originally from warm parts of Central America these cactus like plants are extremely drought tolerant. Their large, fleshy, leaves have sharp spines and in the correct conditions can grow to an impressive size.
Agaves are also surprisingly hardy and tolerant of more temperate climates. As long as they are planted in well drained soil in a sunny sheltered position they often do well.
These arid loving plants can make a real statement to a drought tolerant planting scheme.
Rosemary is a very well herb and celebrated for its aromatic foliage often paired with meat dishes.
However, Rosemary is also extremely underrated as a landscaping plant. This small to medium sized shrub has very course and dense foliage giving it a great visual texture.
Being evergreen it can keep borders lush all year round and provide a real bounty for the kitchen. Rosemary can even be clipped into shapes, small hedges and even bonsai trees!
This makes it one of the most versatile of plants for drought resistant gardens. Originally from the Mediterranean, once established, it can withstand any period of low rainfall and drought.
Succulents are an extremely diverse group of plants well adapted to many dry parts of the world.
These plants store water within their fleshy leaves and can go many months without water. Not only are succulents very drought resistant they also are also extremely aesthetic.
They have a wide variety of striking shapes and forms being popular as both indoor and landscape plants.
Even better, their drought tolerance and slow growing nature makes them very low maintenance. This makes them an easy choice for any type of drought resistant landscaping project.
5. Yucca gloriosa
Yucca gloriosa is a type of yucca plant native to the South Eastern North America.
This palm like plant has sharp, sword like evergreen foliage which is extremely decorative and architectural.
Also known as the Spanish dagger, Yucca gloriosa is visually effective in Tropical, Mediterranean or even Desert garden schemes. During midsummer this yucca produces tall flower spikes with clusters of large bell shaped flowers.
Being extremely drought tolerant this plant is perfect for sunny and well drained growing conditions. Due to its sharp leave tips you may wish to trim leaf tips if you have young children.
Agapanthus is a popular garden plant favoured for its rigid stems which support circular clusters of trumpet shaped blooms.
Originally from South Africa it prefers a warm and sunny growing position. Due to them being a perennial from a warm climate they have good drought tolerance. This makes them a good choice for adding drama and surprise to drought resistant landscaping.
If given a free draining soil and plenty of sunlight they are perfect for the front of borders, raised planters and pots. Agapanthus is also popular with pollinators making them good for local wildlife.
Verbena is a genus of flowering plants which are loved for their attractive and scented flowers.
Verbenas typically display small flower clusters white range in shades of white, pink, purple through to red. One of the most popular verbenas in fashion at the moment is Verbena Bonariensis.
This plant has a typical verbena form and like many verbenas is perennial. Its clusters of flowers hover above planting borders throughout the summer months.
The flowers of most verbenas are scented and are extremely attractive to wildlife. Verbenas are well known for their drought tolerance and can easily withstand periods of no rain or irrigation.
Lavender is both a very much loved landscaping plant and aromatic herb. Originating from the Mediterranean region lavender has adapted to dry and arid environments.
This has always made it very suitable for drought resistant borders and planting displays. Lavender has attractive blue grey foliage which forms a spreading clump.
This makes it effective as a groundcover along paths and to the front of flowerbeds. During the summer it produces decorative purple flowers which are much loved by bees.
This plant can give off a very pleasant scent during warm summer afternoons.
9. Lambs ear
Lambs ear is a low growing herbaceous perennial that has light grey and fury leaves. This unusual looking plant can create dense groundcovers and looks very effective in block plantings.
Native to the Middle East this plant has become adapted to hot and sunny conditions. This makes lamb’s ears a good choice for utilising within drought resistant planting designs.
During summer it produces tall flower spikes bearing small pink or purple flowers. Its bold foliage and spreading habit makes this plant perfect for creating contrast within a drought resistant border.
Salvias are an extremely diverse group of plants which are both aromatic and ornamental. Both their foliage and flowers come in a wide variety of colours and shapes.
One of the most common salvias is 'common sage' which is regularly grown for its culinary uses. However I have found that 'Spanish sage' has a much more pungent aroma and better for cooking.
On the other hand there are many attractive types of salvia which are appreciated for their beautiful flowers.
These include plants like Salvia Fulgens and Splendens. Salvias not only look attractive they are also very tolerant of dry soil.
Daylilies are attractive perennial plants which are extremely versatile and adaptable.
With strap like leaves and large, Lilly like flowers they are a favourite for the flower border. Each flower lasts for a single day which explains their name.
Typical flower colours include orange, yellow, red and even purple. The daylilies grow up from their crown and fibrous roots every spring. Their adaptability and perennial nature makes them quite drought resistant.
Once established, Daylilies can make a suitable addition to drought resistant landscaping and planting schemes.
12. Globe artichoke
Globe artichokes are a large perennial plants very closely related to the thistle. This plant is widely cultivated for its edible flower buds which are well known delicacy.
Native to the Mediterranean, Globe artichokes are well adapted for warm and dry growing conditions. They have extremely long tap roots which enable them to tap into moisture well below the soils surface.
This makes them extremely drought resistant and ideal for dry well drained soil. The globe artichoke also has very attractive silvery and architectural foliage.
This makes it a perfect plant for dry gardens where it can look good and even provide a tasty crop!
This perennial plant is favoured for its large daisy like flowers and hardy nature.
Originally from North America, Rudbeckia can tolerate cold temperatures and can adapt to many various soil types. Also known as Black –eyed Susan or Coneflower they make a perfect addition to perennial meadows and flower borders.
Not only do their large flowers look stunning they are also very popular with pollinating insects.
Once established these herbaceous perennials are very drought tolerant during dry summers.
Thank you for reading our article guide on drought tolerant landscaping. Below we have included some other articles you may find relevant.
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