Planting gorgeous gardens for drought

By Lynette L. Walther | Apr 28, 2017
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Lily of the Nile, or agapanthus, is a tender bulb plant with handsome blooms held high on sturdy stems. Heat- and drought-tolerant, this tender perennial is a good choice for a container.

Anyone who has worked to establish new trees, shrubs or perennials in recent years understands what three years of drought in the Northeast have meant for our landscapes. Yes, it’s official, we have experienced three years of below-average rainfall.

April showers and May flowers are a poetic pair, but the fact remains that we cannot always count on water drops from heaven when it comes to caring for our landscapes. Whatever you want to pin it on, climate change or bad vibes, recent years have shown us that rainfall alone isn’t dependable enough to keep things green and growing.

Recent summers show how too little rainfall negatively affected many of our gardens — both ornamental and edible. So what’s a gardener to do? Here’s where we put on our clever-caps and plan and plant to outsmart drought. There are several steps anyone can take to make the most of moisture — whether it falls from the sky or we supplement it with irrigation.

From Tesselaar Plants we get a few suggestions:

• Go mulch: If you’ve not mulched before, this might be the summer you decide to join the many fans of mulch. Mulching means covering the soil surface with a thick layer of something that lets in water and air. Mulch makes a big difference in the way a garden looks in the hot and dry. It stops soil from heating up and cooking the plants’ fine root hairs. It slows weeds' growing and stealing precious water. When watering the garden, it stops the soil from drying out before the plants can make good use of the moisture.

Mulch can take a variety of forms, from chipped and shredded wood and bark materials to shredded leaves, pine needles, or in the case of vegetable gardens, it might even be something like shredded newsprint or strips of corrugated cardboard that cover the soil in between planted rows. In time, any mulch will break down as it oxidizes and adds to the organic matter in the soil. This is a good thing, but it means that mulch is not a permanent solution and must be replaced regularly. (When mulching edible crops, use mulches that do not contain synthetic or toxic inks, dyes or other materials.)

• Water wisely: Water is precious and getting scarcer. The drought veterans in Australia have learned how to water wisely so that nothing is wasted and the plants thrive. Whether they’re currently gardening in a drought or not, they use the same approach, and their gardens are robust, healthy and beautiful. Many Australian gardeners use low-pressure, in-line drip irrigation systems. Easy to install, they run across the soil surface, delivering water directly to roots. Sitting under the mulch, no water is wasted by being sprayed onto the foliage or running off onto paths or driveways. Even on hot days, loss via evaporation is almost zilch. With a timer added to the setup, water can be delivered to their gardens twice a week at 2 or 3 a.m. for even better results.

• The right plants: There’s nothing like a drought to make us take stock of what’s growing – or trying to survive – in our garden. Drought does make honest gardeners of us all. There is no way to avoid seeing the casualties, so it’s best to accept the reality and avoid growing what is clearly unable to cope.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a lush garden filled with flowers – all that is needed is to pick the right plants. Something like storm agapanthus will fill your garden beds with its strappy, vibrant green foliage, with punchy massed flower heads in blues or cool white, for months over summer. Flower carpet roses are another drought-tolerant option and they come in a rainbow selection of shades. This particular rose copes fabulously in the heat, smothering itself in flowers from late spring to late summer. Lavenders are brilliant too, rosemary, the herb, salvias, sedums ... the options are almost endless, once you start looking out for drought-tolerant plants.

• Summing it up: During a drought we can still fill our gardens with gorgeous, flowering plants as long as we mulch, irrigate efficiently and above all, select the right plants. It just goes to prove that drought and gardening are not, in fact, mutually exclusive. Even though the long-range weather predictions for this region call for a wet summer, knowing how to make gorgeous gardens where water is scarce is just about being clever. Using less water is good for the pocketbook and can be good for the garden, too.

The Tesselaar philosophy is to introduce exceptional plants while “making gardening easy” for everyone. For more information go to

'Pink Supreme' and 'Scarlet' flower carpet roses provide mounds of color, easy care and drought tolerance as well. Now is a good time to order bare-root choices to get ready for plenty of blooms this summer. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
Comments (3)
Posted by: Maggie Trout | May 14, 2017 16:13

Happy Mother's Day.  Given the cold, rainy weather, how best to care for the glorious hanging baskets some readers, (including me),  were lucky enough to receive.  I assume, keep the basket indoors, warm, and in as much light as is available, because it's all "indirect" light, at least here in the Rockland area, today.  Primarily, the flowers are begonias, petunias, and verbenas, I think, given what I'd seen around.  Would you, under any circumstances, put them outside, even under cover of "greenhouse-level" plastic, given the cold, and sometimes wind.  Next, we're supposed to get high daytime temperatures, but night temperatures in the mid to upper 40s.  Outside daytime, inside nighttime, (perhaps unless under a porch roof, or ?  Thank you.

Posted by: Lynette Walther | May 08, 2017 17:40

Yes that color-dyed mulch is garish and not necessary. Thanks for the comments, Maggie.

Posted by: Maggie Trout | Apr 28, 2017 22:25

Top-notch wisdom and ways to manage, as always, and so good that I hope people will stay away from the color-dyed mulch-in-a-bag to keep the garden looking good.  Surprised it is still being manufactured and sold.  I miss the lovely greens of pre-drought Spring.

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