Low-Water Garden Plants An Option in Drought-Heavy Areas

Coping with drought is a way of life for many people across North America.
The National Climatic Data Center, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, works cooperatively with Canada and Mexico to monitor climate and drought conditions across the continent.
According to the NOAA, the globally-averaged temperature for 2013 tied as the fourth warmest year since 1880, when record-keeping began. 2013 also marked the 37th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th-century average. Warm temperatures, when paired with below-average precipitation, can quickly escalate and cause drought, making things difficult for those who make their livelihood by working the land or even just weekend gardeners.
Low-water garden plants are a smart choice for those who live in areas that often deal with drought. These resilient plants can keep gardens looking lush and beautiful regardless of water restrictions. In fact, low-water gardening has become a popular trend among eco-conscious gardeners and even is a cost-saving measure for homeowners.
Establishing a garden of drought-tolerant plants requires knowledge of hardiness zones and which plants will thrive in certain areas. Native plants, in general, will be more tolerant to fluctuations in weather than plants that are imported. Contact a garden center and speak with someone knowledgeable about plants that will do well in low-water conditions. In addition, choose plants that have a reputation for drought resistance.
Butterfly bush is very hardy and requires little water. Although it is considered an invasive plant in some areas, gardeners who keep on top of seedlings and off-shoots can keep the plant in control. This shrub will create an enormous amount of flowers that will appear in the spring and will continue to bloom throughout the summer. The butterfly bush also attracts scores of butterflies to a landscape.
A variety of sage plants, including white sage, black sage, and Cleveland sage, are drought-tolerant and do well in climates like Southern California’s. These plants produce blooms that attract insects and birds alike.
Gardeners who would like relatively low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants can opt for succulents.
Succulents, which include aloe, cacti, and jade, are characterized by thick, fleshy water-storage organs.
Succulents prefer bright light and can thrive in south-facing conditions. It’s good to concentrate the most amount of waterings for succulents during the spring growing season. Keep soil well-drained to avoid damage to shallow roots.
Heed landscape conditions when selecting plants for the garden. Drought-tolerant plants are a good idea in those regions where the weather is naturally arid or if homeowners prefer plants that can grow regardless of seasonal water restrictions.

A Bountiful, Water-Wise Herb Garden Bed.

Water conservation is built into our planting of more than a dozen herbs and other useful plants. Lavender, Santolina, and others that require excellent drainage and dry conditions occupy raised berms. The irrigated heart of the bed is filled with herbs that prefer a little more water, with front door space set aside for hand-watered culinary herbs.

Use a similar “water-zone” approach when planting your favorite herbs. A 5-by-12 footbed can be created on level ground or on a slight slope. If desired, a second soaker hose can be installed atop the berm. You also can make the garden longer to create a border along a fence.

Make the berm just a few inches high and the sunken interior area about 4 to 5 inches deep. After you plant, add a generous layer of mulch; the interior surface will be just slightly below the original surface. Do include an opening that can serve as an open floodgate should a heavy storm drench your planting of water-wise herbs.

Outer berm:

Lavender {Lavandula spp.}, 30-36 inches, Zone 4-8. All varieties adapt to dry conditions; Spanish lavender {L. stoechas} is especially heated tolerant.

Rosemary {Rosmarinus officinalis}, 24-48 inches, Zones 7-10; curling leaf tips indicate a need for supplemental water.

Hens-and-chicks {Sempervivum spp.}, 6 inches, Zones 3-8; heat- and cold-tolerant succulents form robust mounds. Can be grown in a pot.

Sedums {Sedum spp.}, 4-8 inches, Zones 3-8; these hardy succulents come in a range of sizes, colors, and forms.

Sage {Salvia officinalis}, 24 inches, Zones 4-8; choose between varieties with gray-green leaves or variegated strains, which tolerate less cold.

Ice plant {Delosperma spp.}, 12 inches, Zones 4-8; heavy-blooming succulents can be grown as annuals or perennials.

Thyme {Thymus spp.}, 12 inches, Zones 5-9; all species show the high tolerance for dry conditions after they are well rooted.

Oregano {Origanum spp.}, 16 inches, Zones 5-9; small, thick leaves hold up well under dry conditions which often enhance flavor.

Gray Santolina {Santolina chamaecyparissus}, 12 inches, Zones 6-8; stiff plants form tight mounds of foliage; require dry conditions.

Echinacea {Echinacea spp.}, 36 inches, Zones 3-9; enjoy flowers in summer, and make healthful tea from the roots in the fall.

Inner Bed, rear tier:

Horehound  {Marrubium vulgare}, 28 inches, Zones 4-9; most drought-tolerant member of the mint family. Leaves used for cough medicine, candy or tea.

Fern-leaf yarrow {Achillea filipendulina}, 36-48 inches, Zones 3-8; produces long-lasting yellow flower clusters in summer; finely cut foliage good for arrangements or crafts.

Russian Sage {Perovskia atriplicifolia}, 3-5 feet, Zones 6-9; arching branches clothed with luminous gray foliage all season, with lavender flowers in summer.

Borage {Borago officinalis}, 36 inches, annual, all zones; fast-growing plants produce flushes of starry blue flowers; cut back to prolong blooming time.

Inner Bed, rear tier:

Anise hyssop {Agastache spp.}, 2-3 feet, Zones 4-9; fragrant foliage topped by spikes of bee-friendly flowers from mid-summer onward.

Basil {Ocimum basilicum}, annual, all zones; 12-18 inches tall.

Cilantro {Coriandrum sativum}, grow as annual; about 6 inches tall.

Parsley {Petroselinum crispum}, a biennial in Zone 6 or grow as annual; about 3-4 inches tall.

A mulched herb garden requires only half as much water as the same space kept in a bluegrass lawn.

Use X-rated Plants:

The word xeriscape always has been a mouthful, so it’s no surprise that the practice of gardening with little or no supplemental water {xeriscaping} has picked up a bit of verbal shorthand. in short, a good xeriscape plant is rated x. Depending on where you live, X-rated plants might include cacti or yucca, or perhaps native grasses or vines. Among herbs, gray Santolina, horehound, and rosemary are rated X. For more information, visit Colorado Water Wise Council at http://Xeriscape.org or Eartheasy at http://www.Eartheasy.com

A Water – Wise Herb Garden.

Combine drought-tolerant varieties with water-saving techniques for a garden that takes the dry weather in stride.
Herb gardeners are not the kind of people who give up easily. A few years ago, when we nursed our garden’s through a drought with heavy water {the type carried by hand}. We learned the value of special planting techniques borrowed from the native people of the arid southwest and gained a new appreciation for the natural drought tolerance of lavender, rosemary, and other Mediterranean herbs.
Those of us who grow herbs have a big advantage when it comes to water-wise gardening because we have so many beautiful drought-tolerant choices available to us.
By combining herbs that thrive under dry conditions with several time-tested strategies for reducing moisture loss, you easily can grow a herb garden that requires little or no supplemental water.

Strategy # 1:

Create Moisture Zones
In water-strapped communities across the country, gardeners have found that placing plants that share similar moisture needs together makes watering more effective and convenient. For example, you might place St. John’s wort, lovage, marshmallow and other herbs that prefer moist soil together in a spot shaded from hot afternoon sun. Should the rain clouds disappear for weeks at a time, you can efficiently water the heavy drinkers until they are satisfied. In similar fashion, herbs that need little water, such as horehound, Santolina, and all succulents, can be grouped together in hot spots that are difficult to water.

 Strategy # 2:

Water-Seeking Roots
Newly planted herbs need moist soil until they establish a functioning network of roots. But after a few weeks, you can fine-tune your watering practices to push plants to develop bigger, better root systems.
Covering the soil’s surface with any type of mulch will block weeds and slow evaporative moisture loss, but there’s a catch. In dry weather, hurried watering sessions that moisten only the mulch and top inch or so of soil encourage plants to develop roots close to the surface, where they quickly dry out. Weekly deep watering, on the other hand, encourages the growth of deeper water-seeking roots.
Using drip or soaker hoses for several hours {or overnight} is the easiest way to deeply water established herbs. Or let the water run freely from a hose laid on the ground as you do other things nearby. Avoid using sprinklers, which are inefficient and must be left on for a long time to soak roots deeply.

 Strategy # 3:

Lessons from the Past
Few places are as hot and dry as the desert southwest, where Zuni gardeners developed an ingenious method called waffle gardening. As the gardeners dug the planting beds, they shaped them into squares or rectangles. Within each one, the Zuni used their hands to mound soil into a waffle pattern. Like warm syrup in a waffle, water collects in each basin when it rains. Between rains, the berms shelter roots from drying the sun and the wind.
Most gardens receive more rain than Zuni gardens do, but you can adapt the waffle garden concept for your temperate-climate herb garden.