Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Designing a Drought Tolerant Garden

Blue Fescue
Water conservation is a hot topic these days. Water shortages have caused many municipalities to impose watering restrictions (at least during heat waves) and rising water costs have motivated many home owners and municipalities to establish more drought tolerant gardens and landscapes.

Tips for Designing a Drought Tolerant Garden:

• Whether your soil is sandy or clay adding generous amounts of compost yearly will help the soil to better retain moisture.

• Mulch your beds and borders to help hold the moisture in.

• Slow down wind velocities on your property by planting hedges and erecting fences to help reduce wind-related soil drying.

• Water infrequently but deeply. Once your plants are well established allow the top 2” to 3” of soil to dry out before watering. It is important to let the surface soils dry out to stress the plants slightly so that they respond by growing deep roots.

• Choose drought tolerant plants. These plants are usually characterized as having root systems that can grow deeply into the soil to 'mine' for moisture during periods of drought.

There are several visual characteristics that can help you determine if a plant is drought tolerant or not. As a general rule, drought tolerant plants have:

• thick fleshy stems and leaves like succulents and cactus

• waxy coated leaves

• densely hairy leaves

• silvery, grayish or bluish foliage

• narrow leaves

• prickly leaves

Dusty Miller

There are many wonderful drought tolerant plants to choose from. Some of my favourites include:

Grasses: Blue fescue, Maiden grass, Reed grass (Karl Foerster)

Bushes and Shrubs: Blue Beard, Boxwood, Cotoneaster, Winged Euonymus (burning bush), Beauty bush, Barberry, Weeping Carigana, Double flowering plum, Potentilla, Yew, Junipers, Quince, Euonymus, Lilacs, Pin Cherry, Chinese abelia, Butterfly-bush, Redosier dogwood, Rugosa rose, Bridalwreath spirea, Scarlet firethorne

Herbs: Oregano, Lavender, Rosemary, Garden Sage, Savoury, Thyme

Perennials: Sedum (Autumn joy), Coreopsis (Moon Beam), Purple Coneflower, Lavender, Gaillardia, Yucca, Peony, Dianthus (pinks), Artemisia, Phlox, Achillea (Yarrow), Liatrus, Periwinkle, Butterfly Weed, Lamb’s Ears, Globe Thistle, Sea Holly (Eryngium), Hens and Chicks (Sempervivums) , Columbine, Day Lilies, Bearded Iris, Daisies, Salvia (many varieties), Russian Sage, Catnip, Day Lilies,

Annuals: Dusty Miller, Begonia (wax leaf), Calendula, Cosmos, Dianthus, Cleome, Geranium, Purple Fountain Grass, Marigold, Lantana, Gazania, Sweet Alyssum, Zinnia, Verbena, Amaranth

Note: Many of the above mentioned plants, although drought tolerant to various degrees will perform at their best in a moister environment.


Reed Grass
Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
Day Lilies
Burning Bush (Winged Euonymus)

Hens and Chicks

With so many wonderful plants to choose from it has become easier than ever before to create beautiful, drought tolerant gardens and given the state of the environment and our busy schedules it just makes good sense.

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