The best drought tolerant plants for your garden

The best drought tolerant plants for your garden

Does your garden look dry and parched in the summer months? Start thinking now about planting the best drought tolerant plants for your garden.

Knowing your soil type and the microclimate in your garden is key to a successful planting plan. There’s no sense in putting a sun loving plant in a shady corner. Neither will a thirsty plant thrive in a very dry soil. The garden designers at Tapestry Design Studios are not just designers – we are horticulturists too. We understand what conditions are needed for different plant species. And when we design planting plans, it’s all about right plant right place.

Here are our tips for choosing the best drought tolerant plants for your garden

  • Avoid impulse buys. Do your plant research before going to the garden centre
  • Study your soil. Is it alkaline? Acidic? Neutral? Sandy? or clay based?
  • Think about light and shade. Plants are fussy about sunlight as well as soil type.
  • Consider the eventual height and spread of the plants 
  • Use mulches to help retain water in the soil 
  • Don’t expect drought tolerant plants to be drought proof – they’re not!

Avoid buying plants on impulse

drought tolerant plants. A scene from Beth Chattos garden in Essex with a winding path and bergenia in bloom

Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex where drought tolerant plants are the norm

Garden centres are brilliant at merchandising. They know exactly how to make every single plant look irresistible, they want you to buy, buy, buy. However. Garden centres hope to move their stock quickly. They only plan on keeping those plants alive for a few weeks (if that) until they are sold. Every plant will be growing in a pot filled with its ideal soil type, and will be given the shade, sunshine, water etc that it needs.  

You however, may not be able to replicate those conditions in your garden. And it’s very easy to be enticed into buying something that looks pretty in the short time but very soon withers and dies.

Write a list of suitable plants BEFORE you go to the garden centre and stick to it!

Study the conditions in your garden

There are literally trillions of plant species to choose from. But if you have a dry garden, you will need to hone your list down to drought tolerant plants that actually like the soil type and the levels of sunshine in your garden.

Start by doing a simple soil test. You can buy the kits online. That will tell you if you soil is suitable for acid loving plants, alkaline loving plants or the ones that aren’t too fussy.

Next, look at the texture of your soil. Is it sandy? If so it’s dry because it’s free-draining. Is your soil clay based? Clay soils tend to be sticky when wet but bake hard in hot dry weather.  Bear this in mind when choosing plants that will be easy to manage in your garden. If you have clay soil, you will need plants that tolerate wet AND dry conditions.  Take a look at this blog on sustainable rain gardens for inspiration.

Finally, notice how the sun moves around your garden. Are you looking for drought tolerant plants that don’t mind shade? Or do you need plants for sunny, dry conditions?

Use all of this information to search for suitable plants online – then you can head off to the plant nursery to select your specimens.

Drought tolerant is not drought proof!

Don’t think that you can pop your drought tolerant plants into the soil and then forget about them. ALL plants need water – it’s just that some need less than others.  Your new plants will need to be watered in and then monitored in warm, dry weather.  As a rule of thumb, during drought conditions it’s better to water your drought tolerant plants really well twice a week. A quick sprinkle won’t do it. Make sure that the water sinks deep into the soil and gets to where the roots are.

Mulch, mulch, mulch.

If you’ve ever visited Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex, you’ll know that she uses lots of mulch.  Mulch is a layer of compost, bark or aggregate that sits on top of the soil to help prevent water evaporation.  It has the added bonus of suppressing weeds and, depending on the type of mulch you use, it can also add nutrients to the soil. Hence it really is the gardener’s best friend.

You can choose whichever type of mulch best suits the style of your garden. For a coastal themed garden, mix gravel with pebbles for an authentic look and feel. For a woodland or cottage type garden, bark mulch is great.

Our choice of drought tolerant plants

Sedum Spurium – a great ground cover plant with showy flowers from mid to late summer. Loves lots of sunshine

Sedum Autumn Joy – another sun lover, grows to about knee high, looks great with grasses and is irresistible to butterflies

Hardy Geranium – a cottage garden favourite. Is happy in full sun or part shade 

Stipa tenuissima – Mexican feather grass. Wonderful for texture and very low maintenance

planting improvementsMiss Willmott’s Ghost – an enigmatic drought tolerant plant that bees adore

Sea Holly – another pollinator friendly plant with pale purply-grey foliage. A great talking point in the garden.

Lavender – easy to grow shrub with amazingly scented flowers and foliage. Likes sunshine. 

Help with choosing plants for a dry garden

Tapestry Design Studios offers a planting plan service. Tell us all about your garden and the effect you’d like to create, and we’ll map out a planting plan using species that look good together and will thrive in your plot. Not only can we save you hours of research – our planting plans will help you avoid buying plants that won’t suit your garden.

Read more about our planting plans here.

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