by Wendy

Planting waterwise perennials will prepare your landscape for the next drought. Featured in this Arizona garden area: Agastache Blue Fortune, Echinacea purpurea Magnus, Nepeta Walker's Low, Potentilla Goldfinger, Asclepias tuberosa and Agastache rupestris. Photo by Pam Koch.

Plant Low-Water Plants Before Another Drought

Thankfully, the crippling drought that has had California in its grips, has been broken by the return of ample winter and spring precipitation. The best time to assess the lessons we've learned about our gardens during a drought is when it's fresh on our minds. Here in my home state of NM, we've been in that same drought since 2010. And for the time being, we too are out of drought as well. As I breathe a huge sigh of relief, as are millions of gardeners across California and the west, there are three important concepts to undertake that I know will help our gardens and landscapes be better prepared to withstand future erratic weather and climate change.

  1. Lavandula angustifolia Hidcote Superior Photo Courtesy of Walter's Gardens Inc

    Lavandula angustifolia ‚Hidcote Superior‚ (English Lavender) is sweetly fragrant, uniformly compact and blooms with darkly colored lavender-blue flower spikes in late spr...

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    Hidcote Superior English Lavender Hidcote Superior English Lavender Lavandula angustifolia Hidcote Superior
    As low as $13.99 Sale $11.89
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote Superior' (English Lavender) is sweetly fragrant, uniformly compact and blooms with darkly colored lavender-blue flower spikes in late spring.
  2. Richfield Strain Firecracker Beardtongue, Penstemon eatonii Richfield Strain

    24-36„ tall x 15„ wide. The Richfield form of Eaton‚s Beardtongue was selected for its overall vigor and flower production. It blooms in early to mid-spring bloomin...

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    Firecracker Penstemon Richfield Strain Richfield Strain Firecracker Beardtongue Penstemon eatonii Richfield Strain
    As low as $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    24-36" tall x 15" wide. The Richfield form of Eaton's Beardtongue was selected for its overall vigor and flower production. It blooms in early to mid-spring blooming with tall spikes of brilliant red flowers. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
  3. Blut Ice Plant, Delosperma ashtonii Blut

    ‚Blut‚ is one of the very best cold hardy Ice Plants. With its vigorous growth habit, durable evergreen foliage and summer-long display of deep magenta-red flowers, it is...

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    Blut Ice Plant Blut Ice Plant Delosperma ashtonii Blut
    As low as $8.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    'Blut' is one of the very best cold hardy Ice Plants. With its vigorous growth habit, durable evergreen foliage and summer-long display of deep magenta-red flowers, it is an invaluable groundcover. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
  4. Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Planned Garden

    Our Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Planned Garden has been a bestseller for decades! Perfect for hot, dry, sunny gardens, this eye-catching combination of long-blooming perennials will light up...

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    Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Planned Garden Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Planned Garden
    As low as $225.99
    Per Garden of 18
    Our Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Planned Garden has been a bestseller for decades! Perfect for hot, dry, sunny gardens, this eye-catching combination of long-blooming perennials will light up the landscape with bright, clear colors. Grow more flowers and foliage while using less water. Easy-care plants feature inedible foliage to keep rabbits and deer away. Large garden of 27 plants covers 190 sq ft, small garden of 18 plants covers 100 sq ft. This Pre-Planned Garden comes with a garden layout map to make planting easy. (For gardeners in coastal CA, OR, and WA, plant the Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Planned Garden For The West Coast)

They are:

  1. Plant low-water plants when there is adequate water to help get them established. Planting ahead of the next drought is essential. It's an absolute certainty that there will be more drought. The question is when and for how long? So, it's an excellent strategy to replace dead and damaged plants in your existing garden with waterwise choices. This will make your valuable landscape more resilient and helps you to appreciate your garden plants' ability to withstand tough growing conditions. Drought brings feelings of despair and helplessness as poorly adapted plants go to the "great compost heap in the sky." But planting now gives you the opportunity to replenish and revitalize your landscape when conditions are optimum.
  2. Plant to defend against browsing animals by planting browse-resistant plants. Hungry, thirsty animals caused more damage to my garden and landscape than lack of water! A scarcity of food in the wild drives animals to feed on our domestic plants as a last resort. When choosing new plants, observe the plants around town that avoid animal damage, as well as seeking out less familiar plants that are recommended as browse-resistant. When drought returns, a combination of well-established, browse resistant plants and the use of deer/rabbit repellents will make a huge difference by greatly reducing future damage.
  3. Revitalize Your Soils with organic and natural fertilizers and fungal inoculants. "Feed your soil to feed your plants" is a basic tenant of organic gardening. Drought-damaged soils benefit greatly when we help to feed the soil's organisms. For example, earthworms need food, and drought greatly reduces available organic materials that fall onto the soil for them to feed upon. So using products like Yum Yum Mix, good quality compost, and Planters II will provide sustenance for earthworms and all the other soil flora and fauna, greatly improving soil health and encouraging healthy root growth so vital to healthy transplants.

It can also be very helpful to re-establish mycorrhizal root fungi more quickly by inoculating the soil with Plant Success. Drought kills roots and damages the root-mycorrhizal symbiosis. Using the powdered inoculants when planting or watering transplants ensures that these young plant roots can quickly connect with these beneficial fungi.

Understanding The Interaction of Soil and Plants as Affected by Drought

Plants and soil have a biologically interdependent relationship. Plant health and nutrition is closely linked with biological activity in the soil. The soil has its own underground ecology, which depends on a vast array of micro-organisms, insects, and invertebrates (earthworms) to decompose organic materials, create humates and provide nutrients vital to plant life. The most overlooked effects of drought occur out of sight and under the ground. Drought harms the soil's organisms and limits the soil's ability to hold water, facilitate oxygen infiltration and break down organic materials. This is detrimental to plant health and the ability of plants to live through the drought.

When precipitation is sufficient to overcome drought, the soil is revitalized as it comes back to life. This is highly beneficial to helping plants establish themselves after transplanting. Trying to establish new plantings in drought is folly. Take advantage of moist, vital soil conditions to get your gardens and landscapes back into shape, filling holes left by dead plants and converting to more regionally suitable, waterwise (xeric) plants.

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Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.