With the threats of increased droughts and heatwaves around the world due to global climate change, and the fact that limited clean fresh water is predicted to soon affect large parts of the world, we all need to consider ways to reduce our water use. The expectation of a green and water-demanding lush lawn is swiftly becoming a thing of the past in many regions as global water resources become more constrained.
If we were all to ditch our lawns in favor of drought-resistant landscaping, we could still have attractive outdoor spaces, but with dramatically reduced water and maintenance requirements, little to no fertilizers or pesticides, increase our property values, reduce or eliminate the need to mow, provide wildlife habitat, and store water.
Ways to create drought-tolerant landscaping on your own property
#1 Water-saving garden methods
There are many ways that you can have a productive garden with less water.
Hugelkultur is a gardening and landscaping method where woody materials such as logs and branches are buried in soil, and vegetation, such as annual vegetable gardens, is planted directly on top of the buried mound. This method is excellent at conserving moisture because the woody materials inside the mound soak up and store water like a sponge. The woody materials inside the mound fertilize the soil for many years, reducing the need to amend your soil.
Compost is very important for gardens because it not only enriches and builds healthy soil, the organic matter in compost helps to retain moisture in the soil.
Mulch can help to dramatically reduce evaporative water loss from soil. Mulching options include shredded leaves, grass clippings (without chemicals), sawdust, straw, and seaweed for gardens, but you might also consider using shredded bark and wood chips around perennial plants. A good guideline is to put a 2-3 inch layer of mulch between plants that are widely spaced apart.
By using a multi-layered mulching technique called, “sheet mulching” or “lasagna gardening,” you are providing tons of water-saving organic materials that will cover your soil, enrich it, and block weeds at the same time.
Soaker hoses and drip irrigation save water by delivering it close to plant roots only, exactly where the plants need it. These methods also save water through reduced water evaporation.
Xeriscaping is defined as landscaping in a way that requires little water, and can be applied to just about any climate. Xeriscaping can include cacti, succulents, drought-resistant ornamental grasses, and other drought-tolerant plants that require less water. An herb garden is a great way to xeriscape, as many herbs, such as lavender, tend to be very drought-tolerant.
Xeriscaping can also include hardscapes like boulders, stones, pavements and sculptures that can take the place of a thirsty lawn.
#3 Plant perennial plants over annual ones
Perennial plants generally have deeper roots than annual plants do, allowing them to better withstand times of drought. Drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, and native prairie plants generally need very little supplemental water except during extreme drought.
For a more sustainable garden, a perennial food forest is more likely to provide resilience to drought than an annual vegetable garden would.
#4 Provide shade
Increasing the amount of shade in your yard by planting trees and other tall vegetation will help to reduce water loss through evaporation.
#5 Use native and indigenous plants
Native plants such as native grasses and wildflowers are adapted to your region and climate and are more likely to be drought-resistant than exotic varieties that might not be as hardy.
They also tend to have longer roots, allowing them to withstand drier conditions.
#6 Drought-tolerant groundcovers
Groundcovers that are drought-tolerant, such as creeping thyme, can help to capture rainwater and prevent water loss from the soil once they are established.
They can also help to cool areas around and between hardscape stones and pavers, so consider including wide gaps between pavers so that groundcovers can grow between them.
Just make sure that you have a edge barrier to contain your chosen ground cover, or it may take over a large area.
#7 Pervious surfaces
Using gravel or other stones in part of your landscape can also do the same thing, as long as the ground beneath them does not become compacted through foot traffic.
#8 Water discretely
If you do find that you need to water your plants, it is best to water them early or late in the day in order to decrease water evaporation throughout the day, especially on hot days.