What is a Drought Tolerant Garden?

What exactly is a drought tolerant garden?

I want to quickly define the meaning of drought, tolerant and resistant so we have a clear understanding of what this post is about.

Drought: A period of dry weather, especially a long one that is injurious to crops.

Tolerant: Inclined or disposed to tolerate; showing tolerance; marked by forbearance or endurance.

Resistant: To withstand the action or effect of.

Specifically applied to this conversation it simply means a drought tolerant garden contains plants, shrubs and trees that require no water other than rainfall and will continue to grow through droughts without withering and dying. 

Drought resistant plants are super resilient tough beasts that can survive for long periods of time without any water at all. Although this post may mention plants that are drought-resistant its main focus is on drought tolerant.

There is a large selection of drought tolerant trees, shrubs, vines, and flowers that are beautiful and easy to care for that can replace those that require significant watering through the dry seasons.

Drought Tolerant Plants, Shrubs and Trees Require no Water Other Than Rainfall and Will Continue to Grow Through Droughts Without Withering and Dying. 

The Benefits of Going Drought Tolerant

Most of us are aware that there is a growing water shortage that is affecting much of the world including the United States.

In several U.S. states such as Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, California, Texas and Georgia levy fines for overuse of water for residential irrigation.  However, many of the regions offer rebates or incentives to residents that replace their water intensive yards with drought tolerant options and hardscaping.

Even if your local municipality doesn’t offer incentives to opt for a drought tolerant garden doing so will save you both time and money.

  • Save Time: Less time is required to care for the plants. Many drought tolerant plants prefer dry mediocre soil requiring you to literally do nothing.
  • Save money: Little or no water is used hence saving you money on your utility bills. Additionally, since many plants prefer poor soil, you will not need to purchase expensive fertilizer and soil supplements.

It should be noted though that starting any drought tolerant plant, from seed or young start will require more work and water than established plants.  Also, most will require some time in their first season to acclimate to your climate.

Typically, in the first year the plants will need to be watered every other day for the first two weeks and then with approximately an inch of water every week for the remainder of the season. Once the plants have taken root you can cut back on watering in the second season however you will want to keep a close eye on them to make sure they are healthy and happy.

As with any garden make it easy for your new plants to get established by keeping your garden free of weeds by composting/mulching at least a couple times a season.

Zoned Out

When considering what plants will work best in your garden it is necessary to determine what hardiness zone you live in and find plants that do well in your zone.

Below is the USDA Hardiness Zone Map with corresponding temperatures. The temperature scale is used to define a USDA hardiness zone. These temperatures are annual extreme minima which means they are lowest temperatures recorded for a zone in a given year. These temperature datasets are taken from the USDA geographic information system geographic information system (GIS) and averaged for the years 1979 through 2005.

Selecting the Right Plants for Your Region

As with any plant selection for your garden you should take the time to make sure what plants do well in your region.  Typically, drought tolerant plants will be native plants to the area in which you live.  A simple Google search will help you discover which plants are native to your state but make sure you include the name of the city you are located.

In my case, I live in Oregon in the Willamette valley which is considerable wetter than Central Oregon’s high desert country where drought tolerant plants grow much better.

Most drought tolerant plants do best in moist but well drained soil.  Sandy or clay soil should be amended with compost or mulch to improve growing conditions.

Plant Suggestions

Again, the focus of this post isn’t to list every drought tolerant tree, shrub, vine, and flower to choose from but rather to inspire you to rethink your planting selections.  Here are 20 drought tolerant plants that I really like and recommend.

Click on any of the plant images or names to learn more information.

A Big One: Your Lawn

The good old labor intensive, thirsty lawn.  They first appeared in France in the 1700s when André Le Nôtre designed the gardens of Versailles which included a small patch of grass that he called the tapis vert, or "green carpet".

To sum up how I feel about lawns I’ll use an excerpt from my blog post titled: Sheet Mulching: How to Build Soil & Save Water:

Lawns are wasteful and silly. They are a leftover from an area when it was considered a status symbol to have a ‘nice’ big lawn. It is a fallacy. A lawn can became an obsession with cutting, trimming, watering, edging, weeding, and fighting the gophers. Not to mention they are a lot of work, take a boatload of maintenance and lawn mowers pollute.

And for what? A higher water bill and the momentary thrill of upping the joneses.

I would rather have what a garden provides me such as fruits, veggies, herbs, and ornamental flowers. Also, grow in my garden insectary flowering plants that attract, feed, and shelter beneficial insects including bees.

There are plenty of ground covers to choose from that work as excellent alternatives to the traditional thirsty status lawn. They are more interesting to look at, require less work to maintain and use considerably less water.  What’s not to like?

From Landscape to Hardscape

Hardscapes include all the inorganic components in a landscape design.  This includes stone, brick and pavers that make up patios and walkways. It also includes any stone, ceramics or concrete used in the construction of planters, walls, or waterfalls.

Other landscape elements include wooden fences, planters, decks, gazebos, or arbors.  Additionally any elements constructed out of metal, like a fence, would be considered hardscape.

So instead of trying to name everything that falls under the umbrella of hardscaping it’s simpler just to remember that if an element of your garden isn’t alive and doesn’t grow its considered hardscaping.

When I bought the house that I currently live in I replaced the tiny 10’x10’ concrete patio with a 30’x30’ paver patio with a sitting wall along its east side. I build an inground fire pit on the garden side of the sitting wall where we can sit on the wall and enjoy a robust fire on a chilly summer evening.  Additionally, I can reconfigure the patio with moveable wooden planters so if I want more room to entertain, I can create more room in just a few minutes by moving the planters to the sides of the patio.

With hardscaping you can add interesting features to you garden that make it a uniquely yours and the best part is hardscaping never needs to be mowed, weeded, or watered!