Green Gardens in Drought Times

The Drought has been officially declared for some time now. Water restrictions are the “new normal”, and as more and more gardens take on that punched look, morale and enthusiasm for landscaping is waning. But if you look at what’s been happening in the land of drought – the Land Down Under – you’ll see a very different picture…

Australia’s climate has always cycled its way through periods of drought. The trouble is, when the English arrived they didn’t yet know this and they brought with them an expectation to replicate the lush green landscape of home. Green lawns, deciduous trees and roses were all cultivated, and from the beginning the climate pattern of 7 dry years then 7 wet years began to do their heads in.  There’d be a period when it would be croquet on the rich green lawns, then the drought would hit and everything but the roses would turn to dust. But it didn’t take too many cycles to teach the Australians a few things. They now have a set of proven tricks but they’ve also adjusted their expectations. Here’s the “what and how” – all of which is pure gold to any northern American landscaper professionals working within the challenge of drought.

First, a quick tips list: sun rise and sun set – which area deals with a hot morning – cool afternoon versus cool morning and hot afternoon?  We water when it’s cool; we plant with proven plants that suit the zone; we plant greater numbers too, as plant density-thickness works – and as a result, get a quicker result and a fuller garden.  This greater cover means cooler earth – less water required – and therefore healthier plants which produce with flowers.  Simple.


1. Mulch it   Re-open your old text books and remember what you learned about mulch. That it helps keep the soil temperature cool for fragile plant roots. That it stops the soil drying out to quickly.  That it helps build a living soil full of all the necessary micro flora and fauna needed for healthy plants. That you need to spread it thickly for it to work best at keeping the weeds down. Simply mulching all your landscapes will boost their green factor impressively.

2. Smart water  Use your brain and plan how you can best use what water you’re able to access. In Australia, restrictions forced everyone through this hoop and the results have been surprising. Not only are gardens greener than ever, but even when restrictions aren’t in place, people irrigate effectively and therefore use less water overall. From now on, install low pressure, in-line drip on new projects. Sitting below the mulch, these systems reduce evaporative loss to almost zilch and water is delivered to the root zone. Once you see how robust the plant growth is in response to this set-up, you’ll willingly retrofit existing landscapes.

3. Re-think the plants and their numbers Take a look at your plant list – your favorites – and then be brutally honest. Now is the moment to remove any species that aren’t built to cope with drought conditions. Then look around for good looking, easy-to- maintain replacements. Building a workable suite of plants means fewer call backs for replacements, and more importantly, landscapes that look relaxed and thriving rather than just hanging in there.

For example, rather than battle to keep a failing bed of hydrangeas alive, cull them and replace with a mass of Flower Carpet roses, in other words, a plant that has a two tiered root system which works harder during drought. Or, if you haven’t thought about clumping grasses, now’s a good time: they’re a robust and architecturally-strong addition to any drought tolerant planting.

Overall, it’s about shifting your – or your clients’ – expectations. Gorgeous landscapes are possible but not without a few technical tweaks and adjustments.

Provided by Anthony Tesselaar

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