Drought got you and your garden down? Follow these 5 simple rules and you can have a beautiful garden that doesn’t need much water and you will be able to stay within your water allocation. Read on for all details.

5 Rules for Beautiful Garden without much water

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Drought tolerant azalea? The secret is shade & 6 inches of mulch

1. Mulch

A beautiful garden starts with mulch. The single most important thing you can do to preserve moisture in your garden is to Mulch! Lay it on thick. A couple of inches mulch is not sufficient as that amount will be too easily blown or scuffed away. Put down about 6 inches of mulch, everywhere. Obviously, don’t cover the plants or you will kill them (neither should you pile mulch up on the crown of plants or trees). What kind of mulch? It doesn’t matter. Marborg will bring you a 40-yard box of mulch for a delivery fee of about $75.00. Tree companies are thrilled to have a place to dump chips and those are free too.

Allow leaves to accumulate on the ground. Why pay your gardener to blow away your leaves and then pay him to lay down more mulch only to have him blow or rake away the leaves and the mulch next time he comes. Kind of crazy, don’t you think? Take away his rake and his blower.

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Beautiful water-wise garden in Montecito

2. Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is a vital part of having a beautiful garden and staying within your water allocation. Drip systems are efficient as water goes where you want. The water output of a typical sprinkler is about 12 gallons per minute versus drip at about 1-2 gallons per hour. Sprinklers are intended for watering lawns, not garden beds. Only drip irrigation gives you the kind of control needed. Water longer and less-often. Roses can be drought tolerant if they are properly cared for by using drip irrigation and keeping them deeply mulched. 

Here’s a little-known fact: drip irrigation systems need regular maintenance. When a new plant is put in the ground, the drip emitter is placed at the base of the trunk so the root ball receives the water. As plants grow the water is needed further and further away from the trunk of the plant. This is especially true in times of drought because there is no ambient soil moisture, so proper maintenance of your irrigation system is a vital part of a beautiful garden.

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Orchids are extremely drought tolerant (and beautiful)

3. The Right Plant in the Right Place

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We painted this little garden shed and made it into a feature of the garden, surrounding it with drought tolerant perennials

One key to a beautiful garden is grouping similar plants with similar water and light needs together. Another point is leaving enough space between plants and from walkways so as to anticipate the plant’s eventual size. Ceanothus is a perfect example. It has as much as a 12 foot spread but all to typically are planted within 5 inches from of a walkway or each other. Within a year, the gardener will be trimming them into a hedge and within 5 years they will need to be replaced. Not such a good idea. So know your plants.

4. Shade Is Your Friend

Meandering pathways made for easy access to all areas including across the creek, where we made various sitting areas and created a “walk through the woods”. We left the meadow to nature, changing as it does with the seasons, from lush green of winter and spring to the golden of summer.

Oaks provide shade for this garden of Mediterranean and Native plants

Embrace shade in your garden. A shady garden needs lots less water so if you have trees rejoice! And if you don’t have shade, plant some trees. To me there is nothing more beautiful than a shade garden, here you can plant things like camellias and even azaleas (but don’t tell anyone I said that). With enough shade and deep enough mulch, these flowering perennials thrive despite drought. I have the proof in my garden. 

5. Stop “Gardening”

colorful summer garden full of flowering perennials penstemon, Mexican marigold, ivy geranium, iris and succulents

“What? Stop gardening? But I thought gardening was the most important part of having a beautiful garden?” Before you stop reading, I am talking about what passes for gardening in our current environment, not real gardening.

Real gardening is all about nurturing plants, observing their needs and helping it to thrive. That kind of gardening is fine. What I am talking about here is what now passes for “gardening”. Hedge-clipping everything into unnatural shapes, raking, blowing etc. This is NOT gardening. Once you plant, leave things alone for a while.

Final note: Is It Possible To Have Lawn?


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Drought tolerant color garden

That is the big question isn’t it? The answer is yes, of course you can have some lawn, but if you water your lawn you can’t water somewhere else. Have some lawn if you must, but at this point, is it worth it? That depends on your allocation. Anyone can have some lawn, of course, but is it worth trucking in water to keep a massive patch of green? Only you can answer that question.

Until next time, fill your garden with joy!

xo Lisa