Eight ways to make your garden more drought tolerant

With a prolonged cold winter, wetter than average spring and a summer heatwave this year – our gardens and plants have needed to be more resilient than ever. But climate change doesn’t mean you have to dig up your garden and start from scratch. Here's our tips for helping your garden take the heat this summer...

1. Cultivate the soil. Digging in well-rotted compost and mulching with organic matter consistently year-on-year helps keep moisture in and improves soil structure, meaning you have to water less. Mulch under trees with composted bark, rather than mowing, and it will have significant benefits for the root zone and health of the trees.

2. Site right. Never has there been a more important time to get the right plant in the right place. Plants that might have coped with a bit more sun than usual in a normal summer are now drooping or dying. Extra care needs to be taken to ensure you know the aspect of your garden and locate sun tolerant and shade loving plants in the right place. Some RHS AGM drought-tolerant plants include: Cistus X pulverulentus ‘Sunset’; Fremontodendron ‘Californian Glory’; Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight’; Lavender; Lupinus aroboreus and Perovskia. However, before you fill your garden with agaves and yuccas it’s worth considering how these plants might survive once wetter and more wintery conditions return.


3. Go for greys. Plants with silver or grey foliage are more tolerant of the sun because they reflect the rays rather than absorb them.

4. Plant right. If a plant is fresh out of the nursery then give it a good soak before planting rather than expecting it to ‘get on with it’. Thoroughly soak the root ball and go for smaller plants, which will establish better and adapt to your conditions more quickly. This applies to drought tolerant plants as well. Just because they enjoy droughts in their native settings doesn’t mean they don’t need some TLC on transplanting! Planting trees and shrubs at the right time of the year also aids root establishment. There is definitely a higher success rate if you can hold off planting trees and shrubs until mid November to the end of December.

5. Up the weeding. Keep the competition to a minimum by pulling out perennial and annual weeds. It’s hard enough for your plants at the moment without giving them greedy neighbours!

6. Plant groundcovers. Sprawling and crawling plants such as thyme can catch water and act as sponges, and are especially good for slopes where run-off can be a problem.

7. Create shade. So many clients ask for dining areas in full sun, but in reality few people will enjoy being in the midday blaze. If shade is a problem in your garden, create it yourself with parasols or blocks of trees, which can be crown lifted to allow for a semi-shaded sitting area beneath. This will lessen evaporation on hot days too. Perhaps garden designs will move away from perennial plants and embrace more structural shrubs if our hot summers become more frequent.

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8. Swap a lawn for a meadow. Unless you have a sprinkler system, keeping a lawn lush during prolonged hot spells can be tricky, and near impossible during a hose pipe ban. It’s also very wasteful. Meadows by comparison always look greener thanks to the longer stems, which assist with retaining moisture. Rather than mowing the grass short, which stresses the plant and allows the soil to heat up more rapidly, consider a more wild approach. The wildlife will thank you for it, and there will be a greater variety of plants.