Drought Resistant Gardens

Water resources are stretched in many parts of the world - whether due to drought, or excessive demand. Even in more temperate areas, periods of drought may still be common. Whether or not you have already had to deal with water shortages, it is likely that with an increasing population, and an increased demand on our water resources that sooner or later your garden will have to cope with periods of water scarcity.


To give plants the best chance of surviving and growing well under drought conditions, consider the following:

  • Choose plants for your garden that are tolerant of dry conditions. Succulents and cacti are a good choice. Similarly, species native to your area will be better adapted to the local climatic conditions.
  • Deep rooted plants will have greater opportunities for obtaining water from deeper in the soil profile. There are a couple of ways to encourage plants to form deep roots. For example, plant your plants when they are young and small, before their root systems have started to adapt to growing in containers (e.g. spiralling around the wall of the container, and having longer roots air pruned as they grow out of holes in the container). Also, water deeply and thoroughly rather than shallow, frequent waterings. This encourages the plant roots to grow much deeper into the soil profile in search of water, better enabling them to survive dry spells. Once your plants are established you may be able to condition them to dry conditions by "hardening" them off, by gradually increasing the length of time between waterings until you don't water at all, allowing the plant to survive on it's own.
  • Add well rotted organic matter to your soil prior to planting. This helps retain moisture, and may help to improve soil structure which will allow better water penetration into the soil when it does rain, rather than running off the surface to low lying areas.
  • Mulching your plants will help reduce water loss from the soil, as well as having additional benefits, such as, for organic mulches, adding organic matter to the soil, which will add valuable nutrients, help to retain moisture in the soil, and help keep plant roots cool.
  • Adding soil ameliorants such as gypsum and lime which help to improve soil structure, allowing better water penetration.
  • Making the most of available water supplies. For example, use trickle irrigation systems which greatly reduce evaporation and surface run off losses. Recycle 'used' water, such as shower, bath and kitchen water.
  • Avoid growing grass around the base of shrubs. This will significantly reduce competition for moisture (and nutrients).
  • Provide windbreaks for your garden to reduce the drying effects of strong winds.



Sandy soils really add to the problem of scarce water – the water drains straight through them. A useful hint for planting in dry sandy areas is to dig the hole two or three times larger than the pot size that you have to plant. It is best to dig out half of the soil onto one side of the hole and one half onto the other. This gives you two piles of the sand from the hole; to one pile add well rotted compost, peat moss, well rotted animal manure or some loam. Mix all these together, then pop some down the hole to bring it to the correct level then place your plant into the hole and backfill with the remaining soil. Tamp down the area around the plant and water in. Any left over soil can be used to form a lip around the plant to create a small basin to retain water. The idea with this system is to give the plants a good growing environment but at the same time allow them to become accustomed to the soil in which they are expected to grow in.

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