I’ve put together these 3 Tips for a Drought-Tolerant Yard, to help you make some positive changes that will save you time, money and be much more eco-friendly in the long run.
Drought-tolerant yards are a huge topic of conversation right now as climate change continues to make droughts a more regular occurrence and hosepipe bans become an annual summer event. Gardeners are having to adapt their practices to become more mindful of their usage and conserve water, wherever they can.
Drought-tolerant gardens use plants that are naturally adapted to dry conditions, and require less water to maintain. They tend to be more resilient to pests and diseases too, which can save you precious time and won’t make you feel like you’re constantly throwing money into the compost bin. They’re more sustainable too, as they reduce the need for pesticides, which are harmful to the environment.
If you are interested in creating a low-maintenance eco-friendly garden, here are my 3 Tips for a Drought-Tolerant Yard:
- Use mulch or gravel to help retain moisture in the soil and suppress weeds. Gravel gardens are a stylish and cost effective way to add texture and interest to your yard without much upkeep. They are a great option for people who live in areas with hot, dry climates, as they help to retain moisture therefor reducing the need for regular watering. The loose stones also create a safe habitat for insects and wildlife which will increase the biodiversity in your garden as a result.
They don’t need expert installation either – anyone can lay a gravel surface themselves and transform their garden fairly easily. I recommend that you add a weed control fabric or membrane underneath your chippings to keep the weeds at bay, and some edging around the sides if you want to keep your gravel in place and avoid wasting time sweeping up. Your choice of stone and edging will depend on your budget and the aesthetic that you’re trying to create – there are lots of options to choose from whether you have a large garden or a smaller outdoor space.
2. Choose the right plants for the right location. Drought-tolerant plants need full sun, so choose a spot in your yard that gets plenty of sunlight – plants that thrive in full sun require more than six hours of direct sun per day in midsummer. For shady spots, try choosing plants that are native to your area as they will be better adapted to the local climate and will require less watering.
I will be listing my recommendations for drought-tolerant plants further down in this blog post ‘3 Tips for a Drought-Tolerant Yard‘.
3. Water your garden deeply and infrequently as this will help the roots of your plants to grow deeper into the soil, so that they can access water directly from the ground more easily-taking the onus away from you, so that you can go away on holiday without worrying about booking in a plant sitter.
How do I choose?
Before I give you my list of tried and tested drought-tolerant plants here are a couple of simple things to look out for if you ever find yourself unprepared at the garden centre.
- Look for plants that have a thick, waxy coating on their leaves as this coating helps to prevent water loss.
- Evergreen plants can retain water in their leaves during the winter, which makes them the better option for a drought-tolerant garden to deciduous ones.
Here are some examples of drought-tolerant garden plants for the UK climate:
Clematis: Clematis is a beautiful flowering vine that can be grown in the many varying conditions around the UK. There are a number of different varieties of clematis, some of which are more drought-tolerant than others. Clematis ‘Ernest Markham‘ is a hardy variety – perfect for growing in full sun and climbing up unsightly walls or structures if you need a beautiful distraction, or are compromised on space.
Succulents: Succulents are a group of plants that are known for their ability to store water. There are many different varieties of succulents, some of which are more drought-tolerant than others.
Sedum: Sedum is a succulent plant that is extremely drought-tolerant. There are many different varieties of sedum, some of which are evergreen and some that are deciduous. Try and stick to the evergreen varieties. ‘Blue Cushion‘ is a resilient, fast spreading evergreen perennial that forms a dense mat of succulent foliage in a striking blue-grey hue. During the summer, upright stems will emerge, adorned with clusters of star-shaped yellow flowers to thank you for the hard work that you didn’t put in.
Lavender: Lavender is a popular herb for pollinators that is also very drought-tolerant. In its native Mediterranean and Middle Eastern habitat, it thrives in gravelly, rocky soils that rarely receive rainfall during the summer. It actually despises too much watering, as it can lead to root rot. Lavender is a great plant for adding a sensory element to the garden too as it emits a calming fragrance as you gently brush past. Rosemary and thyme are its best friends as they are also drought-tolerant and a great choice for creating an edible-low maintenance garden.
Yucca: Yucca is a spiky plant that is native to the desert. Once established, it is extremely drought-tolerant and thrives in sunny, hot borders or containers. Yucca gloriosa will give year-round architectural interest through their dramatic jagged foliage. If they’re happy they will even produce a flush of blush coloured, bell shaped flowers in the mid to late summer.
Agave is another great option if you love a high impact, spiky plant that can tolerate arid conditions.
Ornamental grasses: Ornamental grasses are a fantastic way to add texture and movement to your garden. Stipa tenuissima, also known as mexican feather grass, is a favourite of mine, it’s extremely drought tolerant and it’s shoots turn from vibrant green in the spring, to a feathery sandy colour in the summer, adding movement to your garden and some seasonal interest to keep things interesting.
Scabious: Don’t panic flower lovers, blooms are also welcome in a drought-tolerant garden and are vital for encouraging more pollinators and increasing the bio-diversity. Scabious is a drought-tolerant flowering plant that is native to Europe and Asia. It comes in a variety of colours, including blue, purple, and pink and it’s delicate blooms, gently bobbing around in the breeze will add an element of playfulness to your garden.
Take note: It’s important to do the ground work and prepare the soil so that you can then reap in the rewards of a low-maintenance garden. As a general rule, drought-tolerant plants do not like having we feet and so they need well-draining soil to thrive. Plants such as cacti, succulents, and alpines, will benefit from adding grit to your soil. If your garden soil is heavy and clay-like, adding some sand or grit will help to improve its structure by increasing aeration and drainage.
As with all gardening, patience is key. Drought-tolerant plants may take a little longer to grown and mature, but once established they will build up a resilience and begin to thrive without much help from you and you can sit back and enjoy all the credit anyway.
Low maintenance trees if you please?
Tree’s a great way of adding height and structure to a garden. As well as providing food in the form of flowers, fruits and seeds, they provide some much needed cover and nesting sites for our wildlife, from insects to larger species such as birds. Here are some examples of drought-tolerant trees for your garden.
Mexican fan palm: Mexican fan palm, is a tall, fast-growing palm tree that, as the name suggests, is native to Mexico, making it extremely tolerant of arid, dry conditions. It’s perfectly suited to grow in our UK climate though, with plants hardy to as low as -8c. Over time Mexican fan palms will form a tall, slender trunk topped with massive fan-shaped leaves. It will perform to its best in a bright, sunny spot, in free draining soil.
Cordyline: Another great option, for adding tropical, structure is a Cordyline Ausralis tree. This large hardy plant, also know as the cabbage or torbay palm, will thrive in both a border or container. It’s extremely tolerant of drought, but also wind and coastal exposure. With well draining soil, this palm can reach up to five metres tall in a sunny location.
UK native options
Plants and trees that are native to your area will be better adapted to the local climate and will therefor require less water. Here are some examples of drought-tolerant, UK native trees.
Juniper: Juniper is a UK native tree that grows well in full sun and well-drained soil types, making it one of the more capable trees for withstanding drought. It is a much-loved evergreen that grows as a shrub or small tree. It has strong green credentials too as its hardy nature and year-round foliage allow it to steadily absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
Silver birch: Although better suited for medium to large gardens, the silver birch is particularly drought tolerant. It has a lower demand for water than most other native trees and its compact roots allow it to grow in tighter spots. Its light, open canopy enables grasses, mosses and flowers to grow happily beneath it. Its a deciduous tree so it’s ever changing leaves will add visual seasonality to your garden and even when all the leaves have fallen, its striking white bark will make it a feature in your garden all year round.
Myth busting: Finally a bit of myth busting on Olive trees as they are well known for being extremely drought tolerant and thriving in poor and stony soils-but-as they are a big investment it’s important to understand that they are not always as low-maintenance as they are considered to be.
Although you may have seen them thriving in dry climates around the Mediterranean, they usually grow in large groups, allowing the younger trees some dappled shade underneath the more mature trees with deeper root systems, so that they can build that resilience over many years. Younger olive trees do require watering and feeding during the spring and summer months and when planted in pots and containers, you will need to avoid the soil drying out or they will turn yellow and drop their usually evergreen leaves. They will also fail to produce flowers and fruit in the summer which are the signs of a truely happy tree.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
I couldn’t end this blog post without reminding you that we should all be conserving as much rainwater as we can. At a time when water is a precious commodity, we should not be pouring it down the drain.
Using a water butt to collect your rain water is always a good idea and there are some beautiful ones on the market that are much more easy on the eye than the plastic barrels of old. Rainwater is better for your plants as it often has a lower pH and the minerals that are sometimes found in mains water, especially in hard water areas can raise the pH of your root zone, which can affect the nutrient availability to your plants. You may have even noticed it causing a nasty scale build up when you use it on your house plants.
That said, nothing should go to waste and your rose bush will be more than happy to lap up your dirty dishwater when it’s thirsty, so get those washing up bowls at the ready.
I hope that this blog post has given you a few handy tips to take away with you for creating a more sustainable, drought-tolerant yard.