While some plants can survive without soil, no plant can survive without water. Many desert plants have adapted so they can wait months or even years for rain, but this patience does not necessarily make them attractive specimens for a garden. Most ornamental garden plants need water on a slightly more frequent and regular basis. Most drought-tolerant plants tend to be just that, tolerant of drought if necessary.
You can modify conditions in your garden to a certain extent by improving the soil and by watering efficiently, but the most important thing is to choose the right plants. Many plants have adapted to deal with drought conditions and will thrive in your dry garden, looking beautiful and making your work much easier as they will need less looking after.
Features to look out for in drought-tolerant plants include the following:
- – Plants with leaves that are very small (such as thyme) reduce the surface from which water is lost.
- – Plants with leaves that are very thin (lavender and rosemary) limit the amount of water lost through transpiration.
- – Plants with larger leaves, but with a covering of fine hairs, reduce water loss and trap any available moisture such as early morning dew. These hairs give many of the plants an attractively furry or downy appearance, for example, rabbits’ ears (Stachys byzantina).
- – Plants with silvery leaves, like sea holly (Eryngium) reflect the light, thus reducing heat and evaporation.
- – Plants with a blue (glaucous) tinge to the leaves, as found on sedums, often have a waxy coating that will reduce heat and evaporation.
- – Aromatic-leafed plants like myrtle (Myrtus communis) store water well because the oils that produce the scent also trap water in the leaves.
- – Succulent plants, such as agave and sedum, store water efficiently in their thick sap.
- – Plants with long taproots that go really deep into the soil reach water buried deep below the dry surface.
- – Many of the bulbs which flower in spring or early summer (e.g. tulips and alliums) do so before the weather gets too hot and they then retreat underground where it’s cooler. Some plants, such as irises, actually need their rhizomes (roots) to be baked in the sun in order to flower well the following year.
Put the plants in the right place
When choosing plants it is vitally important to consider whether your site is sunny, shady or a mixture of the two according to the sun’s position during the day and throughout the seasons. While water will evaporate more slowly from a shady position, there may also be less of it in the first place if, for example, that shade is caused by a building or tree.