Starting A Low-maintenance, Drought-tolerant Gardening

The secret to having this type of garden is to select plants that are dormant during the dry summers and do their growing during the times of year that the rains fall. However, before we run down to the nursery and start buying plants we have to get an area ready for them.

In order for a garden of this type to be successful, several things have to be considered and possibly corrected. The site must be able to support the plants, both physically and nutritionally. Visual elements may need to be added or moved to allow for an aesthetic view of the garden. The existing vegetation must not be competitive.


Let's determine what the plants need. Plants are amazingly like humans. They like regular water, except during our dry season when they go to sleep. They don't really care for wet feet or cold, windy, rainy days. They would appreciate being fed. They like to lie around in the sun.

Even though it may seem perfect, a wet area in your yard would be a poor choice for this type of garden because it would not allow the plants to go into their summer dormancy and the wet soil would rot the roots. There are plants for wet areas--but that's a whole different subject.

First, there's something you can't do anything about, and that's the weather. If the fog rolls in on a regular basis you should locate the garden area in as much sun as possible. If you are located in a warmer and sunnier coastal valley you can get by with less sun.

Soil needs to drain well. If your area slopes, that will work. If all you have is flat ground, consider building mounds. Planting on these will keep the roots out of the soggy winter soil. Raised beds or bottomless planters will also work.

Just because the plants go dormant during the dry season doesn't mean that they look bad. Most are attractive and many hold their flowers all summer. If possible, place the garden where you will be able to see it to it's best advantage from your favorite spot in the house. Move the garage if you have to. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea--don't put it in some out of the way spot that you seldom visit.


Plants need soil that will be able to nurture them. It should be crumbly and porous. Check here if you think your soil needs improvement. Don't put a lot of nutrients in the soil but do add some organic matter if it is lacking. If possible, kill off all the existing vegetation with Roundup or cover the area for a few months. You will have to remove ALL the weeds and their roots regularly, and it's a lot easier to start out with a weed-free area. There will be weeds the first few years but the weeding will gradually get much less. You will be using a mulch also.

Remove all nearby invasive plants (like blackberries, bindweed, bamboo, etc.) If you have trees nearby, you will probably find their roots in the garden area. There's not much that can be done about them; you'll just use a little more fertilizer.


Next: What to plant