How to Create a Drought-Tolerant Garden

 In today’s world, as many governing bodies are requiring that homes replace natural lawns with artificial turf, in an effort to save water: learning how to create a drought-tolerant garden may be more important than ever.  And a streamlined garden can still hold much appeal ~ with tall, native grasses to provide privacy & structure, & perennials like salvia to add a pop of color.  Here, I’ll provide a curated photo gallery & simple list of ideas to help make your own garden that much tougher & resilient.

How to Create a Drought-Tolerant Garden, Girl Who Gardens

Drought-tolerant gardens can still hold much visual interest, as shown in this Santa Barbara garden. Photo by Sunset Magazine.

The Top 4 Principles in a Low-Water Garden: 1) Reduce the amount of lawn & grass; 2) Add more perennials; 3) Install a drip-irrigation system; & 4) Use rock, flagstone, & other natural elements not only for beauty ~ but to reduce the number of areas that need to be watered.

Tiered Fountain

Garden Book

Karl Foerster

Simple Ways to “Toughen” Your Garden…

How to Create a Drought-Tolerant Garden, Girl Who Gardens

This Carmel home is a wonderful example of a drought-resistant garden: large flagstone pieces set the stage, & punctuate the surrounding landscape & outdoor seating area. Photo by Houzz.

  •  Consider Planting More Perennials than Annuals. Over time, perennials need less & less water, because their root systems grow so big & strong. Annuals, with their very shallow root systems, tend to need more water (& they also need to be re-planted the following year, which is a lot more work)! A primarily perennial garden (75%+) will pay dividends with your future water bills ~ as you’ll need to water the garden less & less over the years.
  • Choose 4-5 Drought-Tolerant Plants & Trees to Repeat throughout Your Landscape. Repetition is often thought of as a French country garden principle: but it works well in drought-tolerant landscapes too. Take between 3-6 plants, & plant them in repeating patterns throughout your yard (i.e. plant 2 tall native grasses next to a lower, mounding shrub in front). Choose plants by asking your gardener which are most drought-tolerant in your area, or ask a local nursery. Or simply walk around your neighborhood & get inspired by seeing what does well, right around you. If your neighborhood doesn’t have many exciting gardens: take a walk around a high-end community in your town ~ these homes often employ drought-tolerant, easy-to-grow plants in attractive layouts.
  • Have a Drip Irrigation System Installed ~ if you don’t already. They use much less water than sprinklers, & are actually a much more efficient way of watering plants & trees, as the “drip” is placed right at the plant’s base/root. 
  • Consider Replacing Traditional Lawn with Artifical Turf.  This option won’t work for everyone, as some people just don’t like artificial grass. However, for many: artificial grass is totally worth it ~ especially if you have pets (who pee on your lawn). Again, many HOA’s & governments are requiring artificial turf, which I think is a big ask due to its high cost: but it does save water. I also love that it provides a perennially-green foreground for my English cottage garden ~ & lets me spend more time with my flowers.
  • Consider Adding Permanent Elements that are NOT Flowers or Grass: What I mean by this is, you can also replace tired lawns with a beautiful fountain surrounded by rocks; or create a large flagstone seating area; use arbors & other permanent features to create interest & height in your garden, without necessarily planting greenery. All kinds of rocks & rock elements are also wonderful ways to minimize plantings, create pathways, & really highlight the areas you do choose to plant. All kinds of rock: from small pea gravel, to large drain rock (which many use to create French drain systems), & even massive boulders ~ all help create structure & interest in a xeriscape garden.
  • Best Plants for the Drought-Tolerant Garden: Russian sage, salvia (almost any zone can grow some type of salvia), lavender, yarrow, bougainvillea, stonecrop, lantana, anything in the “Sage” family, agaves, cactus, all manner of native grasses ~ from Karl Foerster to Pampas to pretty-pink Muhly grass (even climates that freeze can grow some kind of native grass), rosemary, coneflower, catmint, zinnias, yucca, verbena….& the list goes on.

Almost all perennials & trees will become drought-tolerant over time: they need to be watered more frequently in their first year, but this lessens over time as roots become so developed.

Photos of Great Drought-Tolerant Gardens

How to Create a Drought-Tolerant Garden, Girl Who Gardens

This pretty yard is 90% rock & flagstone elements: which really lets the few plantings shine. Photo by Artificial Grass Recyclers.

How to Create a Drought-Tolerant Garden, Girl Who Gardens

Repeating grasses with low, mounding shrubs is used to great effect in this front yard. Photo by Better Homes & Gardens.

How to Create a Drought-Tolerant Garden, Girl Who Gardens

This is a great example of a modern, low-water garden: fake grass is broken up with large concrete squares, & bordered by a pretty rock garden. Photo by Artificial Turf Express.

How to Create a Drought-Tolerant Garden, Girl Who Gardens

Though there’s a lot of color here: there are actually just a few different plants repeated: a great technique in low-water gardens. Photo by Better Homes & Gardens.

How to Create a Drought-Tolerant Garden, Girl Who Gardens

This raised bed in my own garden creates privacy with tall lilacs & Karl Foerster grasses: a simple drip system emits just a tiny amount of water at the base of each plant.

Photos of Beautiful Drought-Tolerant Gardens, Girl Who Gardens

Native grasses are a must in almost any garden type: especially low-water. The way they look at sunset is spectacular.

Photos of Beautiful Drought-Tolerant Gardens, Girl Who Gardens

Palm Springs is a great resource for mid-century modern garden design. Here, just a few large rocks, cacti, & a handful of agave plants look sharp & put-together. Photo by Link Edge.

Photos of Beautiful Drought-Tolerant Gardens, Girl Who Gardens

This South of France garden is an entirely “Dry Garden.” This means: there’s no drip system AT ALL!  And look at all they manage to grow… Photo by Gardens Illustrated.

Photos of Beautiful Drought-Tolerant Gardens, Girl Who Gardens

More from the same French garden, which was created by Olivier & Clara Filippi. Photo by Gardens Illustrated.

Some of the plants used in this extraordinary French garden include: Pinus Pinea (the trees), Cistus x cyprius f. Albiflorus (evergreen shrubs with white flowers), Euphorbia Ceratocarpa (an evergreen perennial), & Phlomis purpurea (a tough, woody perennial).

How to Create a Drought-Resistant Garden, Girl Who Gardens

A large fountain creates a focal point, & is surrounded by creeping groundcover, sage-like shrubs, & colorful perennials ~ none of which require much water. Photo by Better Homes & Gardens.

How to Create a Drought-Resistant Garden, Girl Who Gardens

This Montecito garden keeps plantings limited to a few specific areas ~ with decomposed granite used in between. Photo by Montecito Landscape.

How to Create a Drought-Resistant Garden, Girl Who Gardens

Muhly grass is an incredible way to add HUGE pops of color to your xeriscape garden. Photo by Popular Science.

How to Create a Drought-Tolerant Garden, Girl Who Gardens

One more look at the easy-growing Karl Foersters in my garden…all on drip.

Shop for easy-growing Karl Foerster native grasses online….sometimes they have them at my local nursery, but many times they don’t. These guys are tough & will survive even being shipped.

How to Create a Drought-Resistant Garden, Girl Who Gardens

This gorgeous front yard perfectly uses symmetry & repeat plantings to create a calm, inviting entrance. Photo by Moon Valley Nursery.

How to Create a Drought-Tolerant Garden

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