DIY Ideas – How to build a drought tolerant garden
As we delve deeper into drought season, this spring might be the perfect chance to re-evaluate your garden design. This month’s featured DIY idea outlines some genius ways to lower maintenance and future-proof your outdoor area by investing in a drought tolerant garden!
Drought tolerant garden designs by Outside Space
Drought-proofing through soil
First of all, building a drought tolerant garden starts with good soil. So, before adding or removing any plants, make sure you:
- Add compost and aged manures to improve soil structure.
- Aerate the soil to assist with air and water penetration.
- Stop fertilising; the lack of moisture and urge to keep growing during drought conditions can actually cause damage to your plants.
- Use mulch to keep the soil cool, reduce water loss and control weeds; around 7cm-10cm is the suggested depth.
Water-hungry plants to avoid
If water is scarce, there are some plants that are far thirstier than others, which include:
- Tropical plants (i.e. calethea, ferns)
- Plants with fleshy stems or large leaf surface area (i.e. birds of paradise, banana trees)
- Annuals (i.e. impatiens, sweet peas)
- Some lawn varieties (i.e. kikuyu, buffalo)
If you have these guys in your garden and start to show signs of distress, you can:
- Transfer to pots and move them to more shaded areas
- Move all thirsty plants into one single location, where you can water them all at once
- Prioritise which to save and which to replace
Choosing plants for your drought tolerant garden
Also known as xeriscaping, choosing plants that will withstand drought conditions usually means finding those that do not require much (or any) supplementary watering.
To choose what’s best for your garden, it’s important to consider the climate you’re in and the type of soil you have. Additionally, taking note of plants that naturally grow in your local area should give you a great indication of what naturally thrives with minimal maintenance.
Some drought-resistant plant suggestions include:
- Mother-in-law’s tongue/snake plants
- Pennisetum, or foxtail/fountain grass
- Blue fescue grass
- Lomandra, or basket grass
- Switch grass
- Silver grass
- Reed grass
- Bottlebrush grass
- Kangaroo grass
- Wallaby grass
- Brush wiregrass
- Tea tree
- Kangaroo paw
- Woolly bush
- Grass trees
- Lamb’s ear
- Senecio ‘silver dust’
Drought tolerant lawns and lawn care
If you’re hoping to keep your grass green through this dry season, look for lawn varieties with high drought tolerance, such as native Zoysia varieties, or couch for cooler climates.
Furthermore, some drought-specific lawn maintenance tips include:
- Aerating the lawn to avoid compaction issues.
- Applying a wetting agent before summer to avoid dry patch.
- Mowing higher to support lawn health.
- Using a mulching mower and leaving the clippings to protect the thatch.
- Avoiding fertilising in summer; only fertilise in Autumn (slow release) or early Spring (quick or slow release).
- Avoiding herbicides.
Sometimes, a troublesome location or challenging environmental conditions simply aren’t worth the stress. In fact, more and more Aussie homes are replacing patches of failing lawn with other garden elements, such as:
- Groundcovers (such as blue chalk sticks, sedums and clover)
- Drought-tolerant herbs (such as rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and tarragon)
- Succulents or bedhead gardens
- Artificial lawns
Water collection and irrigation solutions
- Install a soaker hose below mulch layer to ensure water is being applied straight into the roots.
- Use water diversion methods to redirect rainwater and drainage into rain gardens.
- Install rainwater tanks or collection containers around your home.
- Collect grey water from your shower or kitchen to re-use in your garden; however, be mindful of any chemicals that may contaminate it.
- Research permaculture gardening and watering hacks.
Water-smart gardening practices
To make the most of your water during a drought, consider adopting the following watering practices:
- Water roots, not leaves.
- Water early in the morning, to hydrate and prepare plants for the day.
- Focus on areas that need it most.
- Train your plants to search for water by watering for longer periods of time, less frequently. Avoid short daily watering; a deep water once every fortnight will keep plants alive during a drought.
- If your garden begins to suffer, think carefully about which plants to save; first priority goes to trees, then the most established and/or expensive lower plants.
- Finally, be knowledgeable about the details of the water restrictions and make the most of them.
Consider weeds as water-thieves. Therefore, while it may not be the most fun gardening job in the world, it’s vital to making sure that your precious water is reaching the plants you actually want to keep!
DIY shade structures
Last, but certainly not least; where possible, consider installing shade over your garden to protect your plants.
Some DIY ideas to introduce more shade to your garden include:
- Plant tall trees
- Install shade cloth
- Build a gazebo or pergola
- Retractable canopies or awnings
Written by Evelyn Kandris
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