I think anyone who has lived in the Charlotte area in the past few years can appreciate the meaning of the word drought. We all remember the brown crunchy lawns, struggling gardens, and water restrictions. Now that the drought is “over,” however, we should continue to practice water conservation…especially in our landscapes.
When designing a drought tolerant garden it is important to consider several important factors:
1) Choose site location carefully.
Choose a drought tolerant plant that meets the height and width requirements for the space in which you will be planting. Plantings that are too crowded can become stressed—they will compete for light, nutrients, and water, and may become more susceptible to insects and disease. Consider the amount of sun exposure at the planting site—a shade-loving plant, drought tolerant or not, will not thrive in full sun. Remember to use a soil conditioner when planting to break up our heavy clay soil and allow water and oxygen to reach the roots.
2) Properly water/mulch your landscape.
A common misconception about drought tolerant plants is that these plants require less water and therefore gardeners do not water initially when planting or sometimes not at all! It is imperative that the drought tolerant plant first becomes established in the landscape before it is exposed to long periods without water. Yes, even drought tolerant plants need water, especially during the first year in your landscape. To encourage deep rooting it is recommended that you water regularly using a slow drip method for 30-45 minutes at a time. Frequent light “spray” waterings are virtually useless to the plant and are a waste of time and water. In addition to watering effectively it is also an excellent idea to mulch the areas upon planting. Use about three inches of mulch (we prefer shredded hardwood) to help the bed retain moisture, reduce weeds and slow erosion while promoting healthy soil microbial activity.
3) Fertilize and prune properly
Excessive fertilization promotes fast but weak growth and actually increases a plant’s water needs. Generally, a full dose of slow release organic fertilizer (not Miracle Grow!) in the spring and a half dose in the fall will suffice. Improper pruning can also increase a plant’s water needs and cause undo stress. To determine the best time for pruning, the general rule is to prune immediately after the tree or shrub ceases flowering. Evergreens can be pruned/shaped 2x a year in late spring and early fall to avoid promoting too much growth, thus allowing the plant stems to harden off, protecting the plant from potentially burning during a cold snap.
By applying these simple techniques to your gardening practices you will conserve water and help the environment while still having a beautiful landscape. Keep in mind that large expanses of turf grass can be high maintenance compared to a mulched bed of carefully chosen shrubs and perennials. Remember, it is easy to help the planet, one little step at a time!
Listed below are various plants that have been known to perform well in dry areas.
Trees & Shrubs
Magnolia (Deciduous & Evergreen)
Juniper Blue pacifica