Drought-Tolerant Gardening: The Cheaper Landscape Alternative

Drought-Tolerant Gardening: The Cheaper Landscape Alternative

By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden

Do you want to protect your lawn and garden from the threat of drought? Would you prefer to have a more manageable landscape? Do you like to save money? Then you should consider implementing drought-tolerant gardening practices. This will not only wipe out the threat of losing your garden to drought but is much easily to maintain as well.

Many people are wary of drought-tolerant gardening, or xeriscaping, because they’re concerned about the cost. But with proper planning, you can incorporate a drought-tolerant landscape for very little money. In fact, it may even turn out to be a cheaper alternative than traditional landscaping.

Drought Tolerant Lawns

Where should you start? Reducing the size of your lawn can benefit your landscape, saving you time, energy and expense. Why not take a long look at your lawn and start considering cheaper alternatives to traditional turf. Did you know that there are many drought-resistant alternatives to lawn grasses?

  • One alternative to traditional grass is clover. Clover stays green even in the driest part of summer. Clover rarely has to be mowed, but when it does, it mows well. Clover will easily fill in bare spots, it’s soft to walk on, free of weeds, pest-free, and aerates the soil.
  • You can also convert part of your lawn to ornamental grasses. These are low maintenance and grow well in most soils. Ornamental grasses are drought-resistant as well.
  • Another option is drought-tolerant, perennial ground covers. These plants spread across the ground, providing full coverage, but do not grow tall, thereby, cutting out the need for mowing and other maintenance.

Drought Tolerant Landscaping

Drought-tolerant planting beds can be strategically located in the landscape. Drought-tolerant plants include various succulents, rock garden plantings, native shrubs and trees, wildflowers, and ornamental grasses. Choose your plants carefully for the best effect.

Start by looking around your home and notice what types of plants are growing. Some of the most drought-tolerant plants also happen to be those which are native to your area. These not only look great but cost little, especially if you already have some growing on your property. Keep plant selection simple. A few varieties can make a bigger impact with less cost and effort.

Once you have selected the plants for your drought-tolerant landscape, you’re ready to purchase them. However, in an attempt to stretch your dollars even more, there are some things you can do to make this possible.

  • Don’t always look for the biggest plants; buy smaller ones instead. These are much less expensive than the larger plants and once the garden is established, know one will ever be the wiser.
  • Another trick to saving money on those drought-tolerant plants is to check out home improvement and discount department stores for xeric perennials, like sedums and ornamental grasses.
  • If you have friends and neighbors, or even family members, that garden, chances are they may have just the right plant for your drought-tolerant garden, many of which can be easily started from cuttings. Ask them if they have an overabundance of these plants or if you can take a cutting from one. More often than not, they’re happy to oblige your endeavors.
  • You should also consider growing plants from seeds. This is one of the least expensive ways to go. Of course, the seedlings won’t pop up over night, but the savings will be worth the wait.

Creating a drought-tolerant landscape is easy and will wind up being more cost effective in the long run. You will have fewer maintenance chores and less watering requirements. You will also wipe out the worries associated with the threat of drought.

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Read more about Xeriscape Gardens


Low maintenance

“The secret to any water-smart garden,” says Grace, “is playfulness. Play with plant textures and beautiful mulches. And keep the plantings undemanding.”

Which these certainly are. “It takes two guys a half-day once a month to tidy the grasses and refresh mulch,” says Grace. Most of the plants need irrigating only during August through October. For the other nine months
of the year, the irrigation is turned off for everything but the fruit trees.

DESIGN Garden: Margie Grace, Santa Barbara gracedesignassociates.com. Home: Michelle Kaufmann, Novato, CA michellekaufmann.com.


Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus)

Yes, this is that same artichoke that you eat. Artichoke plants have an upright growth habit, reaching heights of 3 to 6 feet. Their leaves are deeply lobed with prickly spines, ranging from a green to a gray-green color. And their stems are quite thick. It’s artichoke’s large flower buds that are sold in the produce aisle of grocery stores. When they’re not harvested and instead allowed to bloom, these buds open into showy purple flowers.

If you live in a climate that has temperatures similar to the artichoke's native land of the southern Mediterranean, it can be a good-looking ornamental plant that produces edible artichokes from fall until spring. In this type of climate, it's a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant perennial that only needs light watering after it's established. Just make sure you grow the plant in well-draining soil, and shelter it from strong winds.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 11
  • Color Varieties: Violet-blue blooms
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Rich, medium moisture, well-draining


What Is Xeriscape Gardening?

Xeriscape plants range from succulents to leafy, flowering to trees. Source: Melinda Young

The term “xeriscape” comes from the Greek root word “xeros”, meaning dry. And its origins reveal its purpose. This method of low-water or no-water landscaping is used to reduce the need for irrigation.

Sometimes referred to as water-conserving landscaping or drought-tolerant landscaping, xeriscape is gaining speed. Somehow, it had gained the reputation of looking like a dry, arid moonscape. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth! You can have a lush landscape with xeriscape and reduce your water bills, too.

There are a few principles which are important in xeriscaping. Let’s talk briefly about those.

Principles of Xeriscape

To successfully install xeriscape plants, you do need to follow a few basic rules. These principles will help you to have a sustainable environment year-round.

  • Plan everything well in advance
  • Limit turfgrass to a minimum
  • Choose plants with lower water needs
  • Place plants with similar watering needs together
  • Use a targeted irrigation system to reduce water waste
  • Mulch around plants to reduce water evaporation
  • Maintain/prune plants to prevent heavier water needs

Let me elaborate a bit on a few of these.

Planning in advance allows you to gauge where sunny or shady locations in your yard are. You can then place plants of similar light and water needs together.

Most lawns take tons of watering. Switching to xeriscape-friendly ground cover plants can significantly reduce your watering needs.

Using drip irrigation, either with a soaker hose or other system, allows you to target your plants. There’s no need to water a 6ft by 6ft space if you only have plants in three feet of it. It also keeps foliage dry, which reduces the risk of many plant diseases.

Mulch is a wonderful thing. Over time it decomposes and adds valuable organic matter to the soil. But until it breaks down, it acts like a sponge for moisture that would otherwise evaporate out of the soil. Keeping 3-4″ deep mulch around your plants will reduce watering needs significantly.

As plants get larger, their water requirements go up. By keeping your garden maintained, you can keep the watering needs consistent. This makes it easier for you to put your beds on a water timer system and automate some of your work.


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