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Tips for a Successful Drought-Tolerant Garden

How to Create a Xeriscape Garden


Zinnia (Zinnia)

Zinnia (Zinnia)

Courtesy of "Sonia's Garden" by Sonia Uyterhoeven andThe New York Botanical Garden
Tips for a Successful Drought-Tolerant Garden:
  1. Plan your garden by grouping plants with similar cultural requirements. Place drought-loving plants together to create a low-watering zone in your garden. The New York Botanical Garden's Stainless Steel Trowel is great for planting and transplanting small plants.

  2. Site your plants carefully. Drought-tolerant plants will either flop or die in soils that are too rich, have inadequate drainage, or are heavily fertilized. For many Mediterranean plants, it is not the cold but the combination of the wet, water-logged soil with the cold that kills them in the winter. Good drainage is important for drought-tolerant plants.

  3. Amend your soil with good organic matter (e.g., compost) before you plant to retain moisture. If you have heavy soil, amend with grit or pea gravel to improve drainage. We recommend the Comfort Grip Soil Scoop, which is an ingenious variation on the trowel and a great tool when you are working with your soil. When held with the point down, the tool becomes a natural extension of your hand as you dig, weed, or make furrows. It is also great for scooping soil out of bags, pots, and containers.

  4. Substitute ground covers in areas where it is difficult to grow turf; particularly shady areas or narrow sections of your yard.

  5. Space plants properly so that they do not compete with each other for root space, water, or nutrients.

  6. Water wisely. Water early in the morning before the heat of the day to minimize evaporation. Allow nature to do her share; you do not need to water your garden after a heavy rain. Watering by hand at the base of plants, with soaker hoses or with drip irrigation, is highly efficient. Oscillating sprinklers tend to be less efficient, but can be used early in the day.

  7. Water deeply and less frequently as opposed to shallow and frequent watering. Deep watering means deeper, more efficient root systems on your plants. Do not water your plants unless they need it. To check, stick your trowel 4 inches into the ground and see if the soil is moist. The rule of thumb is 1 inch per week (approx. ½ gallon per sq. ft.).

  8. Mulch your garden not only to suppress weeds, but also to retain moisture. A 2-3 inch layer of mulch is more than sufficient for most areas of your garden. Shredded pine bark, shredded leaves, and fine gravel are three options that provide very different looks.

  9. Weed your garden frequently in the spring. Rather than trying to tackle everything at once, spend 15-30 minutes weeding several times a week. In addition to getting the job done, you will be spared of unnecessary back pain and exhaustion. Weeds compete with plants for water and nutrients.

  10. Most plants take 1-2 years to establish a good root system. They will need to be watered conscientiously during the first year to establish a healthy root system. Once they are established, you will need to consider your soil conditions (e.g., clay, loam, or sandy soil), as well as the temperature and age of the plant when deciding when to water.

  11. Do not fertilize water-stressed plants. The salts in the fertilizer will burn the weakened, water-deprived roots.

  12. Use water-retaining polymers (e.g., Terra-Sorb™) in your container plantings to absorb and hold water.

  13. Look for 'reduced maintenance'cultivars and blends of turf grasses, including Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) and fine fescue (Festuca rubra) cultivars that have been bred for turf. They tend to have deeper root systems than other turf grasses and will require less water.

  14. Have fun designing with drought-tolerant plants. They come in all shapes and sizes and offer a nice selection of textures and colors to experiment with in the garden.

Up next, a list of drought-tolerant plants to include in your garden.

For more gardening tips visit us online at http://www.nybg.org. For great garden and garden-inspired product visit NYBG's online shop.

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