Xeriscape: Planting A Drought Tolerant Garden

Learn what Xeriscaping is and how to plant a drought tolerant garden full of color and personality.

A Xeriscape is all about planting and gardening with water conservation in mind. There are several colorful varieties of drought tolerant flowers, bushes, and trees that can make a garden a showplace without depleting the water tables or giving you a jaw-dropping water bill.

Although a drought tolerant garden requires less water, it still needs regular watering. But you will water less frequently, and most drought tolerant plants are hardy and can handle the stress of less water quite well.

You will need to decide which type of climate you live in, and choose drought tolerant plants that will flourish in your area. At the close of this article, you will find a list of common drought tolerant plants, trees, and shrubs that are suitable for dry, desert climes. Check with your local grower or nursery to determine which plants are best suited and available for your climate.


Begin by designing the area you'd like to Xeriscape. Using a piece of paper, draw out the areas you have to plant in and the space available. Some things to remember:

1. Put trees at points in the landscaping where their shade and root system will not damage or hinder the growth of other plants.

2. Put tall shrubs and annuals or perennials at the back of a planting bed.

3. Keep in mind the mature size of your trees, plants, and shrubs, and don't overcrowd an area.

4. Even though the plants are "drought tolerant," they still need some water. Plan ahead if you intend to put in a drip irrigation system.


Depending on where you live, you will most likely need to amend your soil before planting. If you have clay soil, you will need to add peat moss, compost, and possibly a bit of sand to loosen the soil and improve drainage. If you have sandy soil, you'll need to add compost to help the soil hold water and minerals. If you have loamy soil, you are probably in pretty good shape although many drought tolerant plants grow better in soils of clay or sand. You can either turn over the entire area in which you'll be planting, or dig sizable holes directly into the spaces you'll be planting, and then backfill those holes with a mix of compost and your native soil. The latter is the easiest way to go, but not always the best. Be certain to mix in a small amount of either organic or granulated fertilizer into each hole.

Once you have designed your layout and prepared the soil, it's time to choose your plants. Drought tolerant plants can be clustered or spaced out, depending on the gardener's taste. You will want to pay attention to each plant's water requirements, and group plants together that have similar watering needs. You wouldn't want to put cactus in close proximity with lantana, verbena, or a deep watered tree. The following is a short list of drought tolerant plants that do well in arid or desert climates.




Black-eyed Susan

Desert Marigold

Evening Primrose



Mexican Evening Primrose

Ornamental Grasses

Purple Aster



Arizona Cyprus

Brittle Bush

Butterfly Bush

Cat's Claw Vine (yellow trumpet vine)


Desert Broom

Fairy Duster




Bottle Brush (locust tree)

Desert Willow

Desert Olive


Palo Verde

Pinyon Pine

Smoke Tree

Scrub Oak

Check with a nursery in your region to see what types of drought tolerant plants are available for your area.


You will want to increase the effectiveness of your drought tolerant plants by mulching. Mulching reduces even further the amount of watering you'll need to do by holding in moisture at the base of the plants. It also helps to keep the soil cool, or warm, depending on where you live. Mulching layers should be approximately two to three inches thick around the base and root growth area of the plant. You can use shredded bark, leaves, aged wood chips, dry grass, or rock. Rock is a great choice for Xeriscape gardening, but it does heat up rapidly in warm climates; don't place it right up against the base of new plants.


If you use a drip irrigation system, you'll have to set your timer and watch the plant closely to judge if it is receiving enough water at the intervals you have programmed. If you are watering your drought tolerant garden by hand, you'll need to be attentive to the climate and/or changes in weather, and water only when your plants are in need of a drink. How do you tell that? The best way is to take a trowel and break up the soil about three inches deep around the plant or in a bed. If it is dry at three inches, it's time to water. You can also tell by looking at your plant. If it's in need of moisture, leaves or stems will slightly wilt or curl, and leaf edges will become dry on some trees and shrubs. Be attentive! Always water to a depth of three inches, but don't flood a planting bed. If you have run off, you'll know you watered too much, so adjust the water level accordingly for next time. It's always best to water at ground level, and don't forget to deep water trees at least once every two to three weeks.

Xeriscaping can reduce the water that conventional gardens require, and xeriscapes are a beautiful, economical choice in today's times of water conservation.

© High Speed Ventures 2011