By Linda Ly
Hot weather and drought-like conditions don’t mean a beautiful yard and garden is out of reach. Learn everything you need to know about drought tolerant landscaping, including the best type of plants, grass, trees and shrubs to plant and how to care for them, even in extreme weather conditions in the heat of summer.
Best Time to Water Plants in Hot Weather
By watering at the right times, you can reduce the amount of water landscaping needs without sacrificing beauty. Too many gardeners subscribe to the idea the more water, the better. But in reality, up to 40 percent of water dedicated to landscaping is actually wasted. Watering at the right time, and in the right way, can ensure plants survive a drought without wasting water.
The best time to water plants in hot weather is during the cool early morning hours between 6 – 10 a.m. Watering during the coolest time of the day allows moisture to soak deeply into the ground rather than evaporate. Instead of overhead watering , which can lead to water evaporation and wasteful runoff, use a watering nozzle or soaker hose to direct water where plants need it the most – at their roots. This method also keeps disease at bay, since moisture from a watering can or sprinkler can cling to overhead leaves and encourage fungal growth.
Ideal Drought Resistant Plants
Drought tolerant landscaping can be both beautiful and easy. Hardy trees and shrubs that are drought resistant are a perfect choice if you’re planting in a drought or extremely hot region or planting zone.
Trees – Many trees are perfect for planting in drought-prone areas. When cared for properly, the right type of tree can flourish and thrive even despite the heat they are growing in. Some options to consider if you’re planting trees in drought conditions could include the following.
- Hackberry – With full, drooping branches, the hackberry tree typically grows 30’ to 50’ in height, but it can grow up to 100’ when growing in the right conditions. This drought resistant tree is easy to care for with minimal maintenance needed beyond occasional pruning in late winter. Plant in full sun to partial shade and water when top layer of soil feels dry.
- California buckeye – Growing about 12’ to 40’ tall with large, white fragrant flowers, the California Buckeye is drought tolerant and conserves water during the hot summer months by dropping leaves early. Still, despite its ability to do with less water, this tree will look fuller and prettier with regular watering. The bark, leaves and raw fruit on the California Buckeye can be poisonous to both humans and animals if ingested. Plant in course soil.
- Kentucky coffeetree – The average Kentucky coffeetree grows to around 60’ – 75’ and will spread about 40’ to 50’ wide, but they can grow as tall as 90’, given the right conditions. This versatile tree is drought tolerant and does best when planted in full sun in moist, organic, rich soil.
- Eastern white pine – The Eastern white pine, also known as the Northern white pine, is the tallest tree in North America. Although the average height is 50’ to 80’, some trees have reached heights over 200’. It prefers well-drained or sandy soil, grows in sun or light shade and boasts moderate drought tolerance.
- Shrubs – Choosing the right shrubs if planning a drought tolerant landscape is key to a long-lasting pretty yard. And drought resistant shrubs don’t have to be thorny and dry looking!
- Common Witch Hazel – Witch hazel does best in moist soil but really can adapt well to most conditions. It thrives in full sun to part shade. After established, it requires little water and pruning is only necessary to achieve desired shape. Many gardeners love witch hazel for the showy winter presence it has, offering a sweet fragrance and color during the traditionally less productive time of year in gardens.
- Juniper – Juniper needs well-drained soil and a well-sunlit area to thrive. It is slow-growing and doesn’t require much pruning, making it low-maintenance and excellent to grow in drought-prone regions.
- Spirea – Spirea is a spring or summer blooming shrub that does well in just about any growing zone. Plant in full sun or light shade, but be aware that shaded growing conditions can stunt growth. Be sure to plant in well-drained soil.
- Coyote brush – Coyote brush is a wiry shrub with waxy leaves that protect it from any moisture loss it may experience due to drought-like conditions. It does extremely well in areas that experience an extended, lengthy dry season or sporadic rainfall.
Drought Resistant Grass Types
Don’t think just because you live in a dry area or are experiencing a drought you can’t enjoy a gorgeous lawn or grassy landscaping. Drought resistant grass types are both hardy and beautiful.
- Dymondia –Typically planted between walkways and stepping stones, dymondia can be a great lawn alternative in drought regions. Also called silver carpet, it has greyish-green leaves with a fuzzy white underside that make the plant look somewhat silvery. This grass substitute won’t tolerate high-traffic areas, but it is easy to protect it with pavers and walking stones if necessary. Full sunlight or light shade and well-drained, sandy soil is perfect for this lawn alternative. Though it is drought tolerant, it will require regular watering for the first 6 months after planting until matured.
- Blue Fescue – Blue fescue is low-growing and great for edging walkways and borders. It can withstand the hottest, driest conditions, making it the perfect drought resistant landscape choice.
- Zoysia Grass – Zoysia grass is not only drought resistant and hardy, it is also thick enough that it chokes out weeds, making it truly a low maintenance variety. It doesn’t need to be mowed often and requires only very minimal water and fertilizer once it is established. It holds up well to foot traffic and has an unusually deep root system and ability to adapt to a variety of soil types.
Drought Resistant Grass Alternatives and Ground Covers
Grass isn’t the only type of green foliage that works well for widespread coverage. Try one of these sprawling ground covers as an alternative to traditional grass in the yard. They are drought resistant and pretty, adding pops of unexpected color that can really wow.
- Yarrow – Once established, yarrow is drought tolerant and easy to grow. It needs well-drained soil and full sun to really thrive but will do well even in poor soil. Not only does it tolerate heat, but it also produces a pretty flower to cut or dry.
- Rockrose – A wonderful, delicate option when planting a water efficient landscape. The sage green leaves and papery bright pink flowers can make even the driest landscaping look lush and lively. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun and prune to train to the size you want.
- Lantana – Lantana is another low maintenance ground cover that once established, is also drought tolerant. The wonderful thing about lantana is the variety you have to choose from. This dainty flowering ground cover produces either orange, red, white, yellow, blue or pink clustered flowers. One caveat though – there is a variety of Lantana that is a shrub cultivar, which can grow taller than 6 feet. Be sure to find the ground cover variety if that is the look you are after.
Water Saving Tips
When the days of summer become long and hot, keeping your yard looking lush can become water consuming and labor intensive. But there are several ways to improve the performance of your garden during those heated summer months. With just a little preventative gardening, it’s easy to reduce moisture loss and decrease time spent in the hot sun. Try these tips to conserve water during the blazing summer heat.
- Amend soil with organic matter – To set a yard up for successful drought gardening, start with the soil. Digging in organic matter like well-rotted compost provides plants much-needed nutrients. It also stimulates beneficial worm activity and improves soil moisture retention. Simply amend soil in the spring, and plants will be better able to withstand the heat of summer.
- Group by water need – No matter the season, designing a drought tolerant garden is easy. Just grow plants with similar water needs together, especially vegetables, herbs and annuals. Deep-rooted crops like tomatoes and winter squash are heavy feeders, thrive in the sun and require more water, while shallow-rooted crops such as spring radishes and salad greens grow well in partial shade and need less water. By grouping plants according to their sunlight and moisture needs, avoiding over (or under) watering is simple.
- Water smart – Overwatering is a real issue when growing in drought prone areas. Take back control by installing electronic or mechanical water timers that will regulate water usage and timing. Soaker hoses are also a great way to ensure water isn’t being wasted on leaves and non-essential areas of the garden. A soaker hose will give thirsty roots the water they need without losing any moisture to runoff or areas that don’t need to be watered.
- Apply mulch – Organic mulch is a must if you want to conserve moisture and insulate plant roots against the heat. Apply a natural mulch twice per year in the spring and fall. Garden beds and trees benefit from several inches of mulch spread over the soil, while containers need only an inch or two each season to help retain moisture.
Xeriscaping is essentially just keeping water usage in mind when planting your garden or yard. Xeriscaping ideas include both the smart watering techniques we just discussed as well as choosing plants that are more drought tolerant.
- What is Xeriscaping? – Xeriscaping is landscaping that needs little to no irrigation or watering.
- Where to Use Xeriscape Landscape – Any region, area or space can benefit from xeriscape landscaping, just keep in mind that certain plants are more drought tolerant than others and will do better with less or no watering.
- Stone Walkways – Xeriscaping, landscaping that keeps water conservation in mind, is an increasingly popular drought resistant landscaping option. Instead of filling yards with large areas of thirsty grass or ground covers, consider using plants that require much less water. Better yet, combine greens with beautiful stone walkways and areas of decorative gravel. Placing ornamental grasses and small garden areas throughout the landscape can add that touch of green you may be yearning for while minimizing water usage.
- Using Native Plants – If planting in an already dry or traditionally drought-likely area, using native plants that have already adapted to dry conditions will increase the chances that they will thrive.
- Ornamental Grasses – Many types of ornamental grasses do well with minimal irrigation. Some drought resistant grass types are surprisingly self-sufficient and don’t need much, if any, additional irrigation once established. Keep in mind, though, most grasses, even drought tolerant varieties, will need ample water right after being planted. Their need will significantly decrease once established and matured.
Drought tolerant landscaping is a beautiful thing. It allows you to sit back and relax in the shade while reducing water usage. By watering mindfully, making wise landscaping choices and performing a little preventative gardening care, staying cool is easy and you know the yard will be gorgeous all summer long. It is not only possible, but actually very easy to have a lush yard with color, texture, and yes, even flowers, even if you are growing in an area that is historically dry.