Tag: drought tolerant gardening

The Long Hot Summer

When those raindrops stop falling, and temperatures soar, it’s time to come to the rescue of your fading flowers and thirsty vegetables.

Whether you’re experiencing just a short dry spell or struggling with a deepening drought, there’s plenty you can do to help your plants survive and even thrive during the dog days of summer.

Good Neighbors
Put plants with similar water requirements together. You’ll be able to water smart, which means you won’t waste moisture on plants that don’t need it or neglect plants that do.

Annuals and vegetables are usually fairly high maintenance, when it comes to water. They need a lot and they need it often. Herbs are fairly drought-tolerant; lawns are always thirsty; and flowering shrubs such as roses, need more water than sturdy evergreens. Container plantings usually require frequent watering because there’s not much soil in which to store moisture. Add water retentive polymers to the soil when potting up a container garden to minimize the number of times you need to water. You can pick up this product at your local garden center. All you need is a small spoonful or two of polymers for a container of soil.

Here is a list of heat tolerant annual flowers that will stay bright and showy no matter how steamy it gets: calliopsis, cockscomb, dusty miller, lantana, Mexican sunflower, nierembergia, portulaca, salvia, sunflowers, vinca and zinnia.

Go Native
Native plants are flowers, trees and shrubs that have evolved in a region over thousands of years, adapting to the changing environment. They’ve thrived on their own their own for centuries, through all kinds of weather extremes. When it comes to low maintenance you can’t go wrong with a native plant. Because they are tough, they can sometimes become garden thugs, so before you plant a variety check with a local garden center or cooperative extension to make sure it is not considered invasive. A few of my favorites for sunny flower borders are: blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, baptisia, Joe-pye weed, liatris, purple coneflower, goldenrod, penstemon and coreopsis.

To a plant, organic mulch is nature’s sunscreen. By covering exposed ground with a 3 to 4 inch layer of shredded hardwood, leaves, bark, peat moss, straw, compost or grass clippings, you add a protective layer that keeps the soil cool, conserves water by reducing evaporation and discourages weeds. A red flag that you need to add mulch is soil that tends to crust or crack, especially after a rain or watering.

Mow Smarter
Taller grass shades the ground from sun and helps keep moisture in the soil. It also encourages deeper root networks, helping your lawn withstand drought and disease. For cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue and perennial ryes, mowers should be set at 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches. Warm-season grasses, such as zoysia and Bermuda, should be maintained at 2 inches.

It breaks my heart to see someone standing in a yard, hose in hand, spraying plants with water. This won’t begin to quench a plant’s thirst. A really long, slow drink of water every 3 to 7 days is much more beneficial because it allows moisture to get all the way down to the root.

If you are conserving water, it’s best to devote your attention to your most recently planted trees and shrubs. Those planted this spring, and even 2 and 3 years ago have yet to establish a strong root system. Deep soak these plants every 10 days.

Deep soaking can be done with an ordinary garden hose set on a slow trickle. They key is to apply small amounts over a couple of hours. Or you can place a five-gallon bucket with 4 to 5 tiny holes in the bottom near the trunk. Fill the bucket with water and it will slowly drip around the tree over time. You will need to apply 5 gallons for every year the tree has been in the ground, up to a maximum of 20.

A lawn requires 1 1/2 inches of water per week to stay actively growing. If your community is under watering restrictions, you may have to let your lawn go thirsty. Most varieties of grass will go dormant and turn brown, but when rains return they usually recover.


Gardeners are some of the most ingenious problem solvers that I know. Whether it is marauding deer or bad drainage, a gardener can come up with an
elegant solution to the situation.

A good example of this is water conservation. It is a growing concern for all of us, whether we garden or not. More and more communities are setting
up water use restrictions and that leaves many of us wondering how these new guidelines will affect our gardens. Leave it to gardeners to come with
a wonderfully elegant solution – xeriscaping. Xeriscape means, "water conservation through creative landscaping." It is a registered
trademark of the Denver Water Board of Denver, Colorado, an organization dedicated to water conservation.

The Board has developed seven golden rules to successful xeriscaping that are applicable in any climate. And what you may find surprising is that
plant palettes are not restricted to drought tolerant or native selections. A xeriscaped garden can actually be quite lush and colorful and yes, it
can even include a nice green lawn.

Seven Steps to Creating a Xeriscape

  1. Start with a Plan

    To begin, make a few copies of the survey or plot plan of your home. I like to make enlargements because they are easier to work with. Use these
    copies as sketch pads to draw out the placement of existing trees and shrubs, driveways, sidewalks and hardscape elements such as patios or out
    buildings. Note the micro-climates around your house. Which areas are sunny or shady? Consider how each area will be used such as outdoor dining
    or a play area for children. Do you have an irrigation system in place? If so, be sure to include it in your plan. Once you have all the existing
    elements on paper you are ready to take your "blueprint" to a designer or create a garden design on your own.

  2. Good Soil

    Very few of us are blessed with good gardening soil. Most soils are either heavy clay or sand. Clay soils are slow to absorb water resulting in
    standing water and run off while sandy soils drain too quickly. To improve these conditions it is important to amend your soil with organic matter
    such as compost or well-rotted manure.

  3. Practical Lawns

    You don’t have to do away with a lawn to have a xeriscaped garden. Just be practical. Choose a type of grass that is known to be low maintenance and
    drought tolerant. Limit your use of turf to areas where it serves a function, such as a place for children to play. Or, if you prefer use ground
    covers, mulches or hardscape elements in place of a lawn.

  4. Irrigation

    Your watering system, whether automatic or by hand, is a key element in the design of your garden. It is wise to consider both types of systems during
    the planning stage.

    When using automatic systems, zone turf areas separate from flowerbeds. Group plants with similar water requirements together. For grass, low-pressure,
    low-angle sprinklers irrigate best. Drip, spray or bubbler emitters are most efficient for watering trees, shrubs, flowers and ground covers.

    If you plan to water by hand choose a sprinkler that emits big drops, low to the ground. Avoid oscillating sprinklers, misters and sprinklers that throw
    the water high into the air.

    If you live in an arid region, water between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. Water in the early morning if your climate is humid. I like to water around 5:00 a.m.

    And keep an eye on the weather. Adjust your watering schedule to account for rain and seasonal changes.

  5. Group Plants with Similar Cultural Requirements

    There are areas around your home that have their own microclimates. These areas receive different amounts of sunlight and moisture. To use limited amounts
    of water wisely, group together plants with compatible light and water needs and place them in the areas of your garden that match those needs. For example,
    you can design your beds so that plants that require moist soil are located in slow draining areas and where it is easy to water. Native plants and drought
    tolerant plants should be located in areas that are harder to water. I recommend visiting The Gardening Centers of
    Colorado X-Rated Plant Program
    website for a list of plants that are drought tolerant.

  6. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

    Applying a 3 to 4 inch layer of mulch around your plants will go a long way in reducing the amount of time you spend watering. Mulch helps keep moisture in
    the soil, cool roots, reduce weeds and slow erosion. I think it also adds a nice finished look to flower beds.

    I prefer to use ground pine bark, but shredded hard wood, pine straw and cypress are a few other organic options. Organic mulches are nice because they break
    down over time, adding nutrients to the soil. Of course this mean they have to be replaced periodically. For a permanent solution try rock or gravel. Apply
    this about 2 inches thick. This material retains heat so avoid using it in sunny locations.

  7. Maintenance and Care

    All gardens require maintenance, but the good thing about a xeriscape is that as it matures it will require less work. Keeping up with routine tasks such as
    weeding, watering, pest control, fertilizing and pruning results in a healthy garden, which in the long run requires less labor to maintain.

For more information on xeriscaping check these online sources: