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The Dry Garden

Creating a garden which will remain attractive during the hot and dry summer months requires the combination of proper soil preparation and the selection of drought tolerant plants.

Water is required by all living things in order to survive. Nature has provided built-in protection for drought resistant plants and these adaptations help them to withstand extended periods of heat and drought. Selecting these plants for the driest portions of the garden will make gardening easier, more successful and ultimately more rewarding.

Some drought resistant plants have reduced leaf size which are tough and leathery and protected by aromatic oils or wax. Spurge (Euphorbia sp.), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Junipers (Juniperus sp.) are some examples of these. Once these plants pick up moisture in the spring, there is little moisture lost from the leaves through transpiration. Adequate moisture in the spring and a good start to the growing season is still vital for their survival.

Other plants have the ability to store moisture in their roots or leaves from which they can draw during dry periods. Stonecrop (Sedum sp.), Daylilies (Hemerocallis sp.), Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum) and Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum sp.) are some examples of these. An ideal ground cover in the hot summer months is an assortment of sedum in their many shapes, sizes and colours.

Grey or silver-foliage plants will commonly flourish in dry soils. The grey appearance is actually green leaves covered by fine hairs. These hairs help with drought resistance by reducing moisture loss through transpiration. The light colour will reflect the heat and keep the plant cool. Wormwood (Artemisia), Lamb's Ears (Stachys), Globe Thistle (Echinops), Yarrow (Achillea) and Lavender (Lavandula sp.) are some examples of these.

The adaptation to heat and drought will often give the plants their desirable ornamental and culinary qualities. For example, when grown in full sun, lavender will produce highly aromatic grey foliage. When grown in partial shade, the leaves will take on an olive green appearance and be less robust and less scented.

Meadow species are naturally drought tolerant due to deep root systems and rapid growth in hot weather. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Gayfeather (Liatris), Bee Balm (Monarda sp.) and Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) are all late summer perennials which thrive naturally in dry soils. In the cultivated garden, these plants will perform well under dry conditions provided the roots are shaded by non-invasive companion plants such as ornamental grasses and each other.

Drought may be caused by a very shallow or light and free-draining soil, a very low average rainfall, or both. Adding organic matter in order to boost both the nutritive and water holding capacity of the soil, will increase the spectrum of plants suitable for your garden. You can also assist your marginally drought tolerant plants by adding mulch around the base of each plant to protect the roots from moisture loss and temperature extremes.

If you are starting a new garden, add a thick layer of well composted manure and straw and work this in to the top 6-8 inches of soil. Or, add liberal amounts of manure to each planting hole to assist the plant in getting a good start. Reduce the amount of exposed soil in the early days by mulching. This will reduce moisture loss and prevent weed invasion by crabgrass and other opportunistic weeds. Once the plants have filled in, they will become their own living mulch.

A desert is the ultimate example of a dry garden. To mimic the desert appearance, use sand and stone both as mulch and as sculptural components. Succulent plants such as Yucca and sedum, along with Bamboo and ornamental grasses are excellent alternatives under extremely dry conditions.

If planned and planted properly, ornamental flower gardens will survive and remain attractive without the need to water. Look to Mother Nature to see the diversity and beauty of flowering plants which thrive in the most adverse of conditions. These plants and compositions are worthy components of our own gardens.

Daisy Moore, 1999.



Other summer garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)


Extreme Conditions
Growing Roses
Summer Lawn Care
Propogation by Cuttings
Sources of Native Plants
Making Sense of Fertilizer Labels
Annual/Perennial Combinations
Climbing Plants
The Dry Garden
Ornamental Grasses
Chooosing A Good Gardening Book
Companion Planting
Preparing the Compost for Fall Use
Getting the Most out of your Vegetable Garden
Repairing Lawns From Summer Stress
All About Grubs
All About Onions
Useful Herbs for the Home Garden
Screens and Hedges




Home  |  Garden designs  |  Naturalized gardening  |  Help with your garden  |  Garden Tips Spring  Summer  Fall  | Contact Daisy


Daisy Moore 2005