DIY Flower Information Garden

Drought-Tolerant Gardens

wood drawer garden with succulents

At least a third of the continental United States has experienced moderate to extreme drought over the last couple of years, and with climate change, droughts are likely to become even more commonplace going forward. July 2022 brought above-average temperatures to nearly every region of the continental United States, with stagnant heat domes placing more than 150 million people under heat warnings and advisories.

If you live in an arid climate (Southern California, we’re looking at you), you don’t want to waste water on a garden when that crucial resource could be used for drinking. Luckily, many plants thrive on limited amounts of water and will tolerate drought conditions.

Here are some tips for creating a drought-tolerant landscape. Want to carry over your eco-consciousness into your gift-giving? Consider sending the important people in your life gorgeous succulent bouquets for all their important moments.

Why Use Drought-Tolerant Landscaping?

Fresh water is a limited resource, so there’s something to be said for conserving it rather than using it to water plants that otherwise wouldn’t thrive in your part of the country. Some locales now require drought-resistant landscaping – or at least offer rebates or other incentives for residents who switch to low-maintenance plants in place of a thirsty lawn.

Additionally, plants with a good amount of drought tolerance tend to be easier to care for, especially if you choose native plants, so your landscape looks better with less effort.

Besides, why spend money on water when you can spend it on water-wise plants, instead?

Designing a Drought-Tolerant Garden

Before finalizing your new landscape design, you should know the difference between “drought-tolerant” and “drought-resistant” plants:

  • Drought-tolerant plants can thrive with limited rainfall (but may still need occasional watering when it doesn’t rain for a while)
  • Drought-resistant plants can survive for a long time without any water

Other terms you may hear when planning a drought-tolerant garden include xeriscaping, water-smart, desert landscaping, dry landscaping, water conservation, and dry garden.

Like any garden plan, be sure to do enough research to avoid planting invasive flowers while still including the best ground cover plants.

Here are some other ideas for materials to include in your drought-tolerant landscape design:

  • Shade trees
  • Drip irrigation
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Potted plants
  • Hardscape elements such as gravel or a checkerboard patio, where grass grows between patio stones or concrete pavers to reduce water demand while also creating a permeable surface to prevent water runoff
    Succulents
  • Recycled (gray) water
  • Mediterranean plants, which are native to an area of the world with limited rainfall, tend to have excellent drought tolerance

Plants and Flowers for Drought-Tolerant Garden

Here are the top picks from The Bouqs Co. for water-wise plants that will thrive in a drought-tolerant garden. For best results, pay attention to the USDA growing zones for each plant.

Aloe Vera

Not only is aloe vera drought-tolerant, hardy, and easy to grow, but the gel inside its thick leaves may be used to help cool sunburns and other mild burns. When grown outdoors, aloe vera produces showy red or yellow flowers that emerge from the middle of the plant in late winter or early spring.

Growing up to 2 feet tall, aloe vera only needs to be watered when the top inch of soil is dry to the touch. You can keep aloe in a pot, but move it indoors or outdoors gradually when the seasons change, as sudden changes to the amount of sunlight it gets can cause stress to the plant.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 8-11
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining, dry to medium moisture
  • Color Varieties: Green leaves, yellow or red flowers

Wild Lilac

Evergreen, colorful, fragrant, and with species native to California, the Rocky Mountains, the eastern United States, and the Pacific Northwest, wild lilac is an excellent drought-tolerant plant that will thrive in many parts of the country. You can use wild lilac for borders, hedges, ground covers, screens, and more since some grow varieties upright and others are low-growing and spreading.

New lilac plants need weekly watering to grow well, but once they’re established, they’ll only need to be watered during prolonged dry spells. You only need to use fertilizer if you have really poor soil, and this stunning shrub can live for 10-25 years.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 10 (Ceanothus ‘Concha’)
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining, dry to medium moisture
  • Color Varieties: Purple, blue, or white blooms

Pride of Madeira

This mounding evergreen reaches about 5-6 feet tall with a 6-10-foot spread. In its second year of growth, the pride of Madeira produces tall flower spikes with clusters of blooms.

Native to rocky cliffs, the pride of Madeira needs excellent drainage and works well in rocky coastal soil and xeriscaping. While this plant needs regular watering during its first year, it only needs extra moisture during prolonged dry spells after that. Pruning spent flower spikes each fall encourages healthy new growth each spring.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining, dry to medium moisture
  • Color Varieties: Blue-violet or white blooms

Fountain Grass

This fast-growing ornamental grass produces clumps of purplish-red narrow, arching leaves about 3 feet tall, with flower spikes extending above the leaves each summer.

Although medium soil moisture will promote darker, shinier grass, fountain grass can tolerate some drought, although it should be watered every couple of weeks if it doesn’t rain for a while. Be sure to plant your fountain grass in a site that’s protected from strong winds.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining, medium moisture
  • Color Varieties: Burgundy blooms

Trumpet Vine

Preferring normal soil with average moisture, the vigorously growing trumpet vine is drought-tolerant and features showy red or orange blooms that attract hummingbirds. Trumpet vines die each winter, produce new growth each spring, and can live for decades. Once the vines are established, you only need to water them during periods of especially hot weather or a long stretch with no rain.

A word of caution: trumpet vines can choke out other plants in the area because they produce new plants from underground stems and self-seed. They also need pruning to help limit their spread.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Lean to average, well-draining, dry to medium moisture
  • Color Varieties: Red or orange blooms

New Zealand Tea Tree

Yes, the same plant whose leaves produce tea tree essential oils can thrive in a drought-tolerant garden! This evergreen shrub has tiny, prickly, aromatic leaves and showy red, pink, or white flowers that attract bees and other pollinators.

In its first year, the New Zealand tea tree needs consistently moist soil. After that, it only needs water if you go more than a couple of weeks without rain. You can either prune this plant to resemble a small tree or let it grow naturally.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Rich, acidic, well-draining, medium moisture
  • Color Varieties: Pink, white, or red blooms

Geranium

Long-living plants that can thrive for decades, geraniums typically start to bloom in the late spring, with some new varieties continuing to bloom until the first fall frost. These low-growing, mound-forming plants are also extremely easy to propagate using cuttings.

Once established, geraniums only need to be watered when it goes longer than a couple of weeks without rain during the growing season. Deadheading helps promote additional blooming all season long.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11 (Pelargonium × hortorum)
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Average to rich, well-draining, medium moisture
  • Color Varieties: Red, orange, purple, pink, or white blooms

Beardtongue

With more than 250 species commonly found in North America, beardtongue (also known as penstemon) grows in a wide variety of climates and is low-maintenance and drought-tolerant after it’s established. The tube-shaped flowers grow on rigid stems in clusters and attract bees and hummingbirds.

Beardtongue requires excellent drainage because it’s prone to root rot and may need to be watered every couple of weeks without rainfall. This plant can spread somewhat aggressively, so be ready to yank new shoots to limit its spread in your garden.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8 (Penstemon digitalis)
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining, dry to medium moisture
  • Color Varieties: White blooms

Sweet Potato Vine

Grown for their foliage rather than their tubers, sweet potato vines have gorgeous heart-shaped leaves that look good as ground cover or trailing over garden walls or out of containers. Each variety has different colored foliage, including bronze, purple, and chartreuse in addition to green.

New sweet potato vines need weekly watering, but once established, they only need additional moisture during long, hot, dry spells. These vigorous growers need occasional pruning to keep their shape.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining, medium moisture
  • Color Varieties: Pink or violet blooms

Lavender

Who knew the highly fragrant lavender plant could thrive with limited moisture? We did! Although this plant does need evenly moist soil during its first year of growth, once it’s established it only needs to be watered if the first few inches of soil get dry.

There’s a surprising amount of variety throughout the lavender genus. Some plants can reach several feet tall, while others remain compact. Some have intricate foliage, while others have simple narrow oval leaves. Regardless of species, pinching off spent blooms can promote additional flowering.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8 (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining, dry to medium moisture
  • Color Varieties: Purple blooms

Kangaroo Paw

Native to dry, sandy areas in Australia, kangaroo paw stores sap in its roots, helping it survive long dry spells (although it grows best with water at least every two weeks during the growing season).

Typically, the plants form a rosette of long green or gray-green leaves at their base with tall, leafless flower stalks emerging from the rosette.

Kangaroo paw must be protected from frost and strong winds, but it can be overwintered indoors or in a greenhouse if you live outside the plant’s preferred growing zones.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11 (Anigozanthos flavidus)
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Rich, sandy, well-draining, medium moisture
  • Color Varieties: Yellow-green, pink, or red blooms

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If you occasionally want to enjoy blooms that require a little more moisture to grow, consider getting a flower subscription. You can have Bouqs delivered as infrequently as every other month if you just want something extra special for celebrating the most important moments in life.

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