Dynamite Drought Tolerant Garden Design

Dynamite Drought Tolerant Garden Design

Close your eyes for a moment and get a picture in your head of a drought-tolerant garden. Bet you imagined copious amounts of rock, lots of cacti, and other spiny, pokey, and pointy plants, didn’t you? While those types of gardens are indeed beautiful, they’re not for everyone — and the good news is that you an plant something besides a cactus and rock garden in order to conserve water.

Don’t believe us? Take a look at these drought-tolerant — but lush — planting combos using bulbs, perennials, and succulents.

Not a pokey plant in the mix!

drought tolerant iris

Plant Picking Primer 

When you put plants together in one area they need to all have the same care and growing requirements. That means planting sun loving plants with sun loving plants and water loving plants with water loving plants, and so forth.

This is particularly true for drought tolerant plantings, and it’s extra particularly true for container plantings — that means no sneaking in a hosta or other thirsty plant simply because it looks pretty. It just won’t work. One plant will be overwatered while the other one gasps for a drink, and neither will thrive.

First Year Care Tips for Drought Tolerant Gardens

It’s important to remember that “drought-tolerant” or “easy care” does not mean “no water or care.” Any plant — even an agave — needs water and some care to get established, so you’ll need to commit to watering your plants while they  make themselves at home. After one season in the ground, drought-tolerant plants will need considerably less water, will weather drought conditions better, and still thrive and bloom.

Watering the Garden

And finally, be sure to prepare your soil well before planting — amend your garden soil to drain well, or use potting soil in your containers that is recommended for drought-tolerant plants. Drainage is very important with these low-care plants — if they sit in water, they will be unhappy and they’ll let you know it pretty quickly.

Drought Tolerant Planting Combos

Now that we have the rules out of the way, let’s have a little fun. Here are three different planting combos that conserve water, add a solid punch of color, and provide months of interest in the garden.

Drought Tolerant Container Design

Drought tolerant container garden

While anything grown in a container needs a bit more care than plants grown in the ground, when you begin with those plants that aren’t as thirsty, easy-care beauty is right at your fingertips. Start with a heavenly-scented plumeria in the center of your pot — this is your focal point. Next, choose one single type of rosette-form succulent, such as an echeveria or sempervivum, and plant them in a ring around the base of the plumeria. Finish your planting off with some cascading silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea), and you have a colorful, drought-tolerant container garden with fragrance, texture, and interest.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to mix different types of plants like perennials, succulents, and annuals. As long as they have the same requirements for soil, sun exposure, and water, they will thrive.


Water-Saving Garden USDA Hardiness Zones 8+

Drought tolerant warm weather garden

Live in a warmer climate? Create a drought-tolerant but heat-loving combo using sago palm for a large tropical-inspired backdrop, then add groupings of Agapanthus and reblooming bearded iris. You’ll have a tropical-looking garden that requires very little care, lots of color, and year-round form with the sago and iris foliage.

Tip: When using groupings of one kind of plant (3-5 agapanthus, for example), use the same variety and color within the grouping for maximum impact.


Water-Saving Garden: USDA Hardiness Zones 7-

Drought tolerant plants zone 7 and lower

We didn’t forget about our cooler climate friends! While your growing conditions may not be as harsh or arid as those in the south or southwest, conserving water is a value shared by gardeners regardless of climate. For a water-saving planting, start with an evergreen backdrop — for example, drought-tolerant shrubs with an interesting foliage color like burgundy or lemon-lime. Then add groupings (see Tip in #2) of color in front, like daylilies, eremurus and allium (for early summer bloom). Leave room towards the back of the border for larger bloomers like Knock Out® roses or any other low-water perennial.

Tip: Be on the lookout for plants with different foliage colors and textures to add interest to your garden. After the blooms fade, you’ll still have a gorgeous planting.

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  • Katie Elzer-Peters
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