How to Master Drought-Resistant Gardening

drought resistant garden

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, for instance. And gardening, be it for food growing or to create an aesthetic environment for ourselves, is no exception. British people, especially in the South, are more and more interested in creating drought-proof gardens, which can withstand the longer and hotter summers that the country experiences every five to ten years.

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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.

So, if you’re interested to know about different xeriscaping techniques to make your green plot water-wise, you’ve come to the right place. Our guide to smart gardening will teach you how to identify drought symptoms in your existing delicate plantlife and lawn area, as well as what steps to follow, in order to create a drought-proof garden. You’ll also learn about what drought-tolerant plants to use to design a vibrant, Mediterranean-style recreational outdoor space.

How to spot drought symptoms in plants

But first things first. Can you identify when your garden is badly affected by hot and arid conditions?

How plants handle dry periods varies from species to species. But one thing is certain, water-depleted plants show clear signs of drought when the blossoms, top leaves and the upper part of the stem become soft and limp. You may also notice that leaves have turned yellow or brown at the edges and flowers have shrivelled up.

Persistent lack of adequate water also stunts vegetation growth. This might be a desirable result, regarding your weed control efforts but insufficient watering will affect the rest of your plants, as well. Also, another drought symptom in fruit-bearing trees and shrubs is the small size of the fruit. So, if you see all these water-deprivation signs in your struggling garden, this means that it is in need of supplemental irrigation.

Note, however, that often, overwatering produces very similar symptoms in plants. They will again 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.

How to make your garden drought-resistant

Now let’s find out what you should do to gradually build a thriving but low-maintenance and drought-tolerant garden.

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 to 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, add lightly 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.

Extra tips:

#1. 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.

#2. If you intend to grow 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.

Plants selection

Even if you’re not quite the horticulturalist you wished to be and you have only basic knowledge about 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 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 the soil conditions;
  • Group similar plants together – it makes sense if you 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 the Autumn before the cold weather sets in;
  • Start up your garden with young plants – small, young plants have 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-tolerant plants still need regular watering until they establish their root system.

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 to 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 only, and not any fast-growing and 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 grey water solution but only as a short-term measure against drought.

Grey water 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 grey water 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 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 during drought with chemical fertilisers, 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. To make a gravel garden is actually not as hard as you think. And regarding its maintenance in heat wave conditions, you’ll have a much easier time than if you had to take care of your lawn in such periods.

Know your drought-tolerant plants

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 to turn your entire garden into a water-smart landscaping masterpiece, check out below our list of plant varieties, which will thrive in a hot and dry climate:

  • Grasses: Blue fescue, Switch grass, Fountain grass, Pampas grass
  • Shrubs: Lavender, Kerosene bush, Rock rose, Rosemary, Thyme, Juniper, Daisy bush
  • Climbers: Passion flower, Jasmine, Trumpet vine, Chilean glory flower
  • Perennials herbs and flowers: Catmint, Poppy, Verbena, Californian fuchsia
  • Succulents: Roseum, Aloe vera, Snake plant, Crown of thorns
  • Cacti: Astrophytum, Lobivia, Rebutia, Mammillaria

There 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 to come when we may be seeing 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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Header image source: Shutterstock/ By Terrie L. Zeller

Posted in Garden Advice

Last update: November 29, 2018

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