Tips for drought-conscious gardening | The Claremont COURIER

By Melinda Myers | Especially for the KURIER

Being a drought-wise gardener doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the beauty of your garden, but it does mean making some changes in plant selection, garden design, and garden maintenance.

This will require some adjustments, but the benefits will be long-lasting.

As you watch your water-thirsty plants suffer and perhaps die from heat and water restrictions, start thinking about replacements. Current and future water restrictions make now a good time to reconsider lawns.

Consider converting grassy paths to surfaces like mulch, well-drained pavers and gravel that don’t require water but allow rain to seep into the soil below. Replace traditional lawns with more drought-tolerant lawn alternatives.

If you still have a lawn, mow it up. Tall grass forms deeper, more drought tolerant roots.

You can also fill voids or switch garden beds to native, more drought-tolerant plants. Many bloom, support pollinators, and have subtly colored foliage and shapes that add texture year-round. Select those native to drier climates. Mediterranean plants and succulents are good options.

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Begin making these changes as temperatures cool in mid-autumn to early winter. New plants have smaller root systems and need extra water to establish, so planting when temperatures drop minimizes water requirements.

When adding new plants or rearranging gardens, place plants with similar water needs together. This allows you to customize watering zones and use hand watering so you only apply what each area needs.

Give your plants space to show their beauty. Fewer plants in a garden means less water is required.

Before planting new plants, take the opportunity to improve the soil. Mixing in compost and mulch will help retain water longer, and healthy soil will encourage more resilient growth. Mulching also helps suppress weeds and keeps roots cooler in hot weather. Match the mulch to the plants you’re growing: Succulents prefer decomposed granite or gravel, while others thrive on organic mulch like leaves or wood chips.

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Water early in the morning to reduce evaporation. Do not rush to water plants that wither during midday. Wilted and curled leaves help plants reduce water loss. Wait to see if the plants will recover in the evening or early morning when temperatures are cooler and sunlight is less intense. Then, if restrictions allow, water as needed.

Repair and upgrade your irrigation system and invest in drip irrigation or drip hoses that direct water to the ground, reducing evaporation.

Check with your local municipality to see if you are able to install a “landscape wash” greywater system. These systems use water from a washing machine to water the plants.

Have your soil tested to find out what type and amount of fertilizer your plants need. Proper fertilization will save you money and encourage healthier, more drought-tolerant growth. Avoid high-nitrogen, fast-release fertilizers as they require more water. Consider using a slow-release, low-nitrogen fertilizer that provides small amounts of nutrients over time and promotes balanced, more drought-tolerant growth.

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Remove weeds as soon as they appear. These unwanted plants compete with your garden for water and nutrients. Some can attract or harbor insects and pathogens that may infest your garden.

As a gardener, it’s often difficult to resist the lure of new, more colorful, or unique strains that aren’t suited to our growing conditions. Passing on these water-thirsty plants and choosing plants that are suited to our climate results in a beautiful landscape that uses less water and requires less maintenance.

Melinda Myers is a gardening expert, TV and radio host, author, columnist and speaker. Learn more at

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