When I moved to the Southwest last year, I had no idea how the dry heat, low humidity, and drastic temperature fluctuations would change the way I landscape my yard. I quickly learned that in an arid climate, proper landscape design takes time and planning. Basically, to create a drought tolerant landscape, you need two things: plants with low water requirements, and low-maintenance design.
In this article, I’ll delve into how you can start planning your dry climate garden. You’ll find plant species that are ideal for dry settings, and specific plants you can use in your yard. In addition, I’ll give you five of the most vital landscaping solutions that are perfect for your climate.
1. Plan Ahead
Before you start, think about how you use your yard and consider where you can situate your plants. Take the natural landscape into consideration, as well as where your air conditioner and other large items are located. For example, place plants that need more water near the bottom of a slope to collect water runoff from your air conditioning unit.
You should also consider what you can use to landscape the space more effectively. If your space is large, consider restricting the size of the lawn to cut back on maintenance and watering. Plan pathways for high-traffic areas, and place small patches of grass near a rainwater collection region.
Integrate hardy plants and other elements into the yard. Group plants with similar needs near each other to conserve water. Use elements like boulders and gravel to redirect rainfall or reduce erosion, and place each element in ways that work with your yard. Raised garden beds can also help prevent water loss while providing more ideal soil conditions for certain plants.
Proper planning can take tons of time and effort, especially if you want to do the work right the first time. Split up all the landscaping working into smaller, more manageable chunks. Always start with your natural landscape for the best results, however.
2. Drought Tolerant Landscape Plants for a Dry Climate
For dry climate, drought tolerant landscape plants, those you select for your yard will do better if they’re local. This way, you know the climate isn’t too harsh for them. Some plants require more acidic soil, others don’t handle cold temperatures well. The plants you choose must fit the climate of your yard, so look for varieties common in a desert landscape.
Select either perennial, annuals, or a combination of both. Perennials are beautiful, while annuals offer color all year. Think about where you want to place the plants with the most color. Plant a higher concentration of foliage near a porch or patio with plenty of shade. This also means you won’t have to water the plants as often because they collect rainwater from your house/downspouts.
Check the care requirements and planting zone before you buy. Additionally, always double-check new plants thoroughly to ensure they’re free from disease before you introduce them to your yard. When searching for plant ideas, consider the following tips:
- Smaller plants adapt to a dry climate better
- Few plants with plenty of space between them require little water
- Organic material like manure can help the soil retain water, but must be well distributed.
Well-known plants perfect for desert climates other than cacti, succulents make gorgeous groupings and are extremely easy to care for. There are many low-maintenance varieties available, and popular options vary. According to the Spruce, the following succulents grow nearly anywhere:
Small clumps of ornamental grasses are ideal in a drought tolerant landscape. Just note that the variety you pick should never reach over 3 inches tall unless planted at least 10 feet away from your home. Otherwise, your home becomes at risk for wildfire.
These fires can spread quickly in tall grasses during dry seasons and cause serious destruction. Additionally, tilling the ground before planting grasses helps the roots establish themselves in the soil more deeply.
Deschampsia elongata, or slender hairgrass, is an ornamental grass. It goes dormant during summer’s drier periods and grows quickly in the fall. Slender hairgrass is my favorite pick for your yard because it’s soft, pretty, and thin. The plant nearly disappears in the summer but grows back on its own. It may, however, stay green all year round in a shady, moist area.
Other popular ornamental grasses include:
- Fountain grass
- Deer grass
- Pink Muhly grass
- Bamboo Muhly grass
- Mexican Feathergrass
- Green Desert Spoon
- Slipper Plant
If you want more privacy, planting fast-growing trees can help keep your home out of view of your neighbors. As the name suggests, these types of trees grow faster than average and provide a beautiful wide-spreading canopy. You may need to prune bushes and trees to encourage new growth each season or keep the branches from hitting you in the face.
Weeping Cherry trees are perfect for dry climates. The dwarf varieties grow to 8-feet while you can find 40-foot varieties available as well. The trees thrive with full-sun, light watering, regular pruning, and well-draining soil. They attract pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies as well.
Shrubs and trees that are also common in dry areas include:
- Palo Verde
- New Zealand tea tree
- Wild Lilac
- Lavender cotton
Small, water-hardy plants are also ideal for a drought tolerant landscape. They can retain moisture well, and smaller plants require less watering and care. You might, however, need to water the plants a bit more during the first year or two while they establish themselves. The following water-hardy plants are common choices for a dry yard:
- Goat’s Beard
- Beard Tongue
- Lady’s Mantle
- Kangaroo Paw
- Sweet Potato Vine
- Trumpet Vine
- Rock Daisy
- Globe Thistle
- Rose Campion
- Mexican Petunia
3. Vital Low-Maintenance Landscaping Ideas
In many dry urban areas, public water supply is restricted during certain times of the year. This means that if you live in a city with a public water ordinance, you might have a limit on the amount of water (if any) you can use for landscaping in the summer. San Francisco, for example, has had a water irrigation ordinance in effect since 2011.
Living in a dry area like this can require you to plan your landscaping projects carefully. Some locations even have guidelines you must adhere to. The following five vital ideas will help you create a low-maintenance yard that meets these needs.
This practice involves using minimal vegetation that requires little to no irrigation. As a result, xeriscaping is a popular technique in dry climates. The practice involves using a pebble foundation, which lines the plants to help control weeds and the amount of water they receive.
It’s an easy display to upkeep, typically requiring simple weed control once per year and occasional watering during especially dry periods. Natural rainfall covers most of the work, and the plants are ideally hardy anyway. Smaller plants are ideal, with desert-loving and low-maintenance options like cacti commonly used.
Mulching near your flower beds can help the plants retain moisture, which is ideal for blooms or plants that require more water. It also provides a buffer between the plants to protect them from drastically changing temperatures, hot or cold, and prevent weeds from invading the garden.
Gravel also is used, similar to mulching, to reduce the amount of water that runs off the soil surface. Using gravel around a dry landscape yard also helps gardeners keep irrigation pipes in place and hide them from view.
Landscape edging, like edging, prevents weeds from taking over your yard. It also allows you to move rainwater where you want it to flow. By using edging, you can separate areas of your yard to control where water moves. Many people line their plants with mulch and a surrounding layer of pebbles, for example, which drives more water toward the greenery. Solid edging can also help you retain water or keep a distinct line, while curved lines offer a more modern appearance.
When using rocks, keep in mind that lighter shades help reflect sunlight and maintain a cool surface.
This is an easy way to make the landscape visually appealing. You can hardscape your yard by adding in large rocks, boulders, or sculptures. They’re not only interesting to look at, but they also help direct the flow of rainwater. Use them to allow water to flow to naturally water your plants or remove water from accumulating in one spot.
Popular water conservation techniques are vital in hot climates. These can include creating a drip irrigation system to take care of your plants, or using rainwater runoff to your benefit. You could even collect water in barrels when it rains, and water your plants in the morning to reduce moisture loss from evaporation.
A Final Tip
If you’re struggling, you can hire a professional to help. Proper planning is very important to improve the function and appearance of your yard, and you’ll save money long-term with a great initial plan that doesn’t require modification later. Landscapers can help you create an adequate plan for your yard’s design, taking the natural landscape around your home into account. You can complete the labor yourself or pay them to assist, depending on how much money you want to spend.
On the other hand, many gardeners (myself included) love coming up with designs themselves. Doing the work yourself can force you to complete the work one step at a time, which provides a bit of time to change your mind and come up with better ideas to improve the function or look of your yard.
No matter what you choose to do, your landscaping efforts should make you feel confident and happy with your dry climate yard’s appearance. Add in fun pottery, rock formations, skulls, or other artistic aesthetics to make your landscape interesting and appealing to you.