Plants in the UK

15 Drought Resistant Plants in the UK for the Master Gardener

With the climate changing, globally and in the UK, comes the need for adopting a different approach, regarding resource preservation, sustainable food production or renewable energy generation. And gardening, be it for food growing or to create an aesthetic environment for ourselves, is no exception. 

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British people, especially in the South, are purchasing drought-resistant plants, which can withstand the longer and hotter summers the country experiences every five to ten years.

So, if you want:

  • To understand the different xeriscaping techniques to make your green plot water-wise,
  • To find examples of drought-resistant plants for your garden.

Then you’ve come to the right place!

According to researchers from the Historic Droughts Project, without understanding the history of drought and water scarcity during past periods in the UK, we cannot develop improved water resource management solutions to help us handle drought better in the future. 

On that note, learning how to garden in dry, hot weather conditions is one water-conserving contribution, which many of us can make in view of the inevitable changes that our environment suffers and their adverse effects on our lives.

How to spot drought symptoms in plants

How plants handle dry periods varies from species to species. But here are a few general signs you should look out for.

  • Soft and limp blossoms. Water-depleted plants show clear signs of drought when the blossoms, top leaves and the upper part of the stem become soft and limp. Sometimes the leaves will have turned yellow or brown at the edges and the flowers will have shrivelled up.
  • Stunted vegetation growth. A persistent lack of adequate water will stunt both weeds and plants.
  • The small size of the fruit. Fruit-bearing trees and shrubs would produce tiny fruit if there is insufficient water. If you notice these water-deprivation signs, then your garden needs supplemental irrigation.
Overwatering produces similar symptoms in plants. They will droop and turn yellow if their roots are subjected to overly moist soil conditions. The result is mould growth in the root system and the plant turning black with rot. Therefore, always check the level of moisture in the soil, in order to identify the true cause of your wilting verdure. To learn more about the signs of overwatering, check out our blog post on how to water plants in your garden.

15 drought-tolerant plants for your garden

Whether you fancy having a go at container gardening and plant some pretty xeriscaping plants, be it cacti, succulents, ornamental grasses or meadow-type plants, or you’re keen on turning your entire garden into a water-smart landscaping masterpiece, check out our list of plant varieties which will thrive in a hot and dry climate:

Drought-resistant grass

Blue fescue

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  • This evergreen grass will add a pop of colour to your garden. Blue fescue can be planted in full sunlight, and will happily produce yellowish flowers in dry soils. The plant grows in clumps that can be planted close to each other, as they don’t spread much.

Fountain grass

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  • This drought-resistant plant gets its name from its fountain-like appearance. In summer, these dense clumps produce flowers that resemble foxtails. Usually, fountain grass doesn’t grow tall, making it perfect for smaller, sunny gardens.

Pampas grass

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  • Unlike the previous plants, pampas grass needs space to grow. It requires around 2 meters distance between single shoots. The plant enjoys full sun areas, therefore will be a great addition to any drought-exposed garden. However, if left unmaintained, pampas grass can become quite invasive.

Drought-resistant shrubs

Lavender

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  • Lavender is a low-maintenance, easy-to-grow evergreen shrub with beautiful flowers. It will provide you with a gentle scent and attractive landscaping option in any sunny area. The plant can withstand direct sun and chalky soils. Lavender can even be grown in pots indoors, as well.

Cistus

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  • Also known as a Rock Rose, this plant produces a colourful floral display in summer. The height of the bushes ranges from 50 cm to 2 m. To control their size, you might want to prune them at the end of the blooming season. Avoid planting Cistus in wet and overly fertile areas.

African daisy

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  • Originated from Africa, no wonder Osteospermum has made it on our list of drought-tolerant plants. These bushy perennials are available in a number of colours, making them suitable for any garden. The height of the bushes varies from 40 to 50 cm.

Drought-resistant climbers

Passionflower

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  • Starting from the middle of summer, these incredible flowers can truly become something that you can feast your eyes on. Moreover, the plant is available in a variety of forms to choose from, including vines, shrubs, and even trees. Passionflower requires planting in well-drained soil and a sunny spot.

Jasmine

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  • Summer jasmine likes to be in the sun. Its white, star-like flowers will not only bring an elegant look to your garden but also fill it with a sensual floral scent. The climber species grow quite fast against a sunny wall or an outbuilding.

Trumpet vine

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  • This fast-growing perennial is very easy to grow even in heat and drought. Once a Trumpet climber has a sturdy support structure, it will start spreading its vines and can reach 12 metres in one season. The plant also requires regular pruning, as it can be quite invasive if left unchecked.

Drought-resistant flowers

Poppy

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  • Native to dry areas of our planet, poppies can become a great addition to any drought-tolerant garden. Red is not the only colour in which poppies produce their flowers. For example, some of the Californian species produce white ones, while others can have yellow or orange blooms.

Verbena

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  • If you want to make your garden not only drought-tolerant but also pollinator-friendly, then verbena is your choice. Bees and butterflies love the rich nectar of verbena flowers. This garden plant will also add a beautiful purple colour to your summer borders.

California fuchsia

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  • California fuchsia produces vibrant red flowers in mid-July. Usually, the bushes don’t grow taller than 60 cm, which makes them a perfect choice for flower borders and beds. Because the plant is sun-loving and requires little watering, you can be sure that it will survive rainless summers.

Drought resistant succulents

Sedum spurium ‘Roseum’

LifeCollectionPhotography/shutterstock.com
  • Just like the other succulents, Sedum spurium ‘Roseum’ grows quite fast. Its edgy green leaves will quickly spread over your outdoor garden. They are able to survive direct sun and nutritionally poor soils, therefore continuous drought won’t be a problem.

Snake plant

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  • Succulents are mainly known for their petite leaves and low ground covers, but not this one! Snake plants have tall green leaves with yellowish borders and light-green stripes all over them. This plant is quite popular for home gardening, however, it thrives well in the outside garden, too.

Crown of thorns

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  • Crown of thorns is one of the few succulents that have actual tear-shaped leaves. Euphorbia milii easily adapts to dry outdoor conditions and high temperatures. The plant blossoms best in full sun and can even bear flowers all year round with proper care.

How to make your garden drought-resistant

Just investing in drought-resistant plants is not enough. What you need to do is gradually build a thriving but low-maintenance and drought-tolerant garden. For that, you need to pay attention to a few key components.

Soil considerations

Well-nourished soil gives plants the best chance to develop their root system and grow strong and vigorous. However, a lot of plant species that are tolerant of dry conditions are less demanding, in terms of their nutrient needs. 

Still, ensure that you cultivate new flower beds and the areas around established shrubs and perennials by digging the soil well. Then, lightly add an organic fertiliser of your choice, be it homemade garden compost, manure or some other natural product that you can find at your local garden centre.

For succulents or other Mediterranean plant varieties, make sure that the soil is well-drained by mixing in some sand. Plant species that like hot and dry climates do not tolerate cold and wet soil conditions.

Remember that you shouldn’t overfeed the soil as this may affect the plants’ level of tolerance to drought. Highly-enriched soil speeds up vegetation growth, which makes plants even more thirsty. Also, plants, which have been well-watered in the summer will naturally become prone to frost damage in the winter.

Plants selection

Even if you’re not quite the horticulturalist you wished to be and you only have basic knowledge of different plant varieties, you can still learn how to recognise drought-tolerant species before you read the label.

Sun-loving plants that cope well in arid regions have common water-preservation characteristics, even if they differ in their appearance, including:

  • Thin, small, needle-resembling leaves – leaves with a small surface control water evaporation better;
  • Inwards-facing leaves – their surface is less exposed to the elements;
  • Hairy or leathery leaves – both types of leaves prevent water loss;
  • Waxy or succulent leaves – again, these features improve water retention;
  • Light-coloured leaves – they reflect light better and thus, keep the leaves cool;
  • Deep roots – help the plant access water from deep below the soil surface.

Planting tips

Now to the planting. To create your water-smart landscape, follow these important strategic tips to succeed:

  • Choose plant varieties that match the soil type. Identify the soil type and select plants that are suited to these conditions;
  • Group similar plants together. It makes sense to plant varieties with the same watering and sun-exposure needs;
  • Plant Mediterranean plants in the spring. Some sun-loving plant species will fail to “settle in” your garden if planted in Autumn before the cold weather sets in;
  • Start your garden with young plants. Small, young plants have a better chance to adapt to their environment than if you tried to work with older and bigger plants;
  • Provide regular care during plant establishment. Drought resistant plants still need regular watering until they establish their root system.

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Water-savvy tips

Immediately after planting, you can improve the soil’s water retention by adding mulch around your plants, such as bark or gravel. Also, ensure you keep on top of weeds by removing them manually or by using some natural weed killing techniques. After all, you want the little water that there is during droughts to sustain your beautiful plants, not unwanted weeds. 

Also, during dry periods and hosepipe ban conditions, you can resort to alternative water resources. So, even if you’ve used up your rainwater supplies, you can employ the so-called greywater solution but only as a short-term measure against drought.

Greywater is a collective term for any household type of used water – the rinse cycles of your dishwasher or washing machine, or your bath and shower water. Don’t worry if the water contains mild detergents, as the soil has the capacity to filter them out. 

Naturally, avoid irrigating edible crops with greywater to prevent contamination. And finally, do not reuse household water if it has been stored for longer than 24 hours to avoid the onset of bacteria growth on your precious plants.

Lawn care

Lawns are generally hardy when it comes to withstanding hot and arid conditions. Even if it turns a bit yellow or brown in the summer season, your lawn has the capability to recover completely in the rainy Autumn months. Still, there are several things that you can do to avoid summer drought stress damage to your lawn

Some of the key tips you can take away are:

  • Keep your lawn slightly longer to encourage water retention;
  • Do not treat your lawn with herbicides which may burn the grass;
  • Avoid feeding your lawn with chemical fertilisers during a drought, as they may damage it;
  • Ask your kids and visitors to stay away from the grass – heavy traffic compacts the soil and reduces water absorption and air circulation.

Hardscape changes

Many “drought-loving” gardens have no lawn areas at all. So, you may also want to consider turning parts of your grassed area into a trendy, drought-tolerant hardscaping feature by replacing it with gravel and potted plants. Making a gravel garden is actually not as hard as you think. And regarding its maintenance in heatwave conditions, you’ll have a much easier time than if you had to take care of a lawn.

So here you have it, our guide to drought-resistant gardening, which may come handy if you live in an area with low rainfall. Or find it useful in the future when we may see more extreme weather conditions of heat and drought. And if you ever need more professional guidance on your garden needs or expert garden maintenance assistance, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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Takeaways

  • Investing in drought-tolerant plants would make your garden low maintenance and keep it in good shape during droughty times;
  • There are a number of drought-resistant plants you could choose from, be it grasses, shrubs, flowers, climbers, succulents and cacti;
  • Switching to drought-tolerant plants doesn’t mean you don’t have to care for your garden anymore. Never stop learning about each plant and how you can bring it to its best shape.

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Header image source: Shutterstock/ By Terrie L. Zeller

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