Water Wise Plants for Drought-Tolerant Gardens

(By Archie Adams, guest writer, with NCAP staff)

Do you have trouble keeping your plants alive during dry Pacific Northwest summers? Do you wish you didn't have to water so much? Start planning now for a drought resistant garden in the heat of summer. “Water wise” is a water and plant management practice that emphasizes using vegetation that has lower water needs, and grouping them by water needs to encourage more efficient water use. Water wise ensures you have beautiful plants in your garden even during the dry season. Additionally, native plants suited to your particular Northwest ecosystem will help create a balance of pest bug and prey so that no harmful pesticides are needed.

Tips for setting up your drought-tolerant garden

If you are ready to create a drought-tolerant garden, the tips below will guide you on the best water-wise plants to ensure your garden is healthy all year round.

  • Carry out a study of plants and their landscape needs before you start. Understand your landscape well, whether it is majorly sandy or clay, areas with sun and those with shade, etc. Sandy, well-drained soil will dry out quickly, while heavy clay soil will retain its water for longer. 
  • Choose your vegetation carefully. For the drought-tolerant niche, choose varieties that are native to your area as they will have adapted to the climate and soils. 
  • Replace your lawn. Options such as turf grass are water-loving plants and require a lot of labor. Consider going with groundcovers or low maintenance types instead.
  • Care for your garden once established. During the establishment, even drought-resistant vegetation will need plenty of water, so planting in fall is the best time of year in much of the Pacific Northwest. Apply mulch to conserve soil moisture and help it develop strong roots. Once established, ensure that you eliminate unnecessary weeds, shrubs, and thickets to grow a tidy garden. For this, we recommend getting a weed eater such as these, and your weed problem will be over even before it begins.  
Here are steps and a short video on how to create a succulent garden that will survive a wet winter AND dry summer:

  1. Choose a location with lots of sun and good drainage.
  2. Remove weeds.
  3. Build layers starting with rocks at the bottom for drainage, and then an organic cactus mix potting soil.
  4. Plant the succulents.
  5. Add more rocks on top of the potting soil layer to act as mulch for weed suppression.

Characteristics of drought-tolerant plants

Drought-tolerant vegetation has features that help minimize water loss and maximize water uptake to ensure they stay green throughout the year. These include:

  • Reduced leaf area. Some drought-tolerant plants have small leaves or needles, and in case it has large leaves, it may have deep indentations between lobes in the leaves to reduce the leaf area. A reduced leaf area means less water loss.
  • Deep roots. Water wise plants have deep roots that enable them to pull in moisture from deeper below the surface.
  • Waxy stems and leaves. A lot of water wise plants will have a large accumulation of wax on their surface to conserve water. 
  • Fine hairs on the leaves. This hair present on the leaves will trap moisture at the leaf surface and reduce water loss through evaporation.

How to care for water wise plants

What do plants need to grow? That is the question to answer before you begin your water wise plant project. Follow these tips on how to care for plants to establish the most beautiful water wise garden:

  1. Water only when needed

Too much watering leads to waste, as much of this water will run off. However, when the plants do not receive enough water, they die. Some signs of insufficient water include:

  • Change of color
  • The soil below becomes difficult to penetrate using a sharp object
  • The garden does not spring back after being walked on.

However, if you observe bright-green patches in your grass or the presence of fungus or moss in the garden, you might be overwatering.

2. Only mow when necessary. We recommend a mowing height of 1 to 3 inches, depending on the type of grass, to prevent your grass from drying out. This minimizes evaporation from the soil and keeps your roots safe from the harsh sun.

3. Lightly fertilize your garden with organic fertilizer, such as compost. While most water wise plant reviews do not recommend fertilizing, we encourage you to apply it at a minimal quantity. Learn more here about when to fertilize, depending on your local conditions.

Landscaping with variety of native plants

Looking after water wise plants in the house

While many people keep and establish water wise gardens outdoors, there are great house plants that can uplift your house décor while keeping water consumption at minimal rates. We have some guidance on how to look after these properly to keep them looking healthy and green all year long.

  • Make sure the potted plants are positioned around the house according to the necessary light levels and temperatures. Some water wise plants thrive in cold temperatures, while others need a lot of light. Place each accordingly.
  • Be aware of house plant diseases. For example, indoor palms catch mealy bugs, so ensure you do proper research on each indoor plant and go online to get tips on how to care for plants before you bring them inside your house.
  • Do not over-water your plants. Due to the controlled home environment, house plants do not require much watering. Excess watering will, in fact, drown them. Ensure you watch out for this.
  • Repot your plants every one or two years, depending on their growth rate. Repotting helps with root development and ensures that your plants thrive properly.

Wrap up

While it can be challenging to maintain a healthy garden or landscape year-round in the Pacific Northwest, you can always keep a green one with the right plant choices. Pick water wise plants that will conserve water and remain green throughout the year. With this guide, you can establish a drought-tolerant garden and choose the best house plants to give your home greenery as well.

About the author, Archie Adams: Archie was a builder for more than 40 years. Mainly after his retirement the enthusiastic electrical works in garden and writes for a blog Homemakerguide.com to keep himself occupied. His many years of experience can get you the right tool reviews whether it is a drill, welding machine or so. An impressive fact to note about him is that almost everything in his house is a representation of his skills made by his hands.