How Much Do You Know About Drought-Friendly Gardening?

By: Zoe Samuel

We're going to start with soil and grass, as they are the baseline. What grass should you NOT put down for your drought-prone lawn?

This is a terrible choice for your garden in a drought. It's commonly used for fancy lawns - sadly, most of America uses it, which is a waste. It'll suck up all the water. Don't use it!

If you have a lawn, which of the below is best to do with the grass clippings?

You should just leave the grass clippings where they are so they can give their nutrients and moisture to the soil. Or you can do something we'll talk about in just a moment!

What organic covering might you use to keep your soil healthy?

Mulch is when you spread something over your soil to cover it. It's usually organic and you can make it yourself. It keeps the temperature down and stops moisture escaping. Good mulch might be made of grass clippings, compost or other materials. Think of it like putting a lid on the cup that is your soil.

How can you help your soil breathe?

Aerating is when you use a device that looks a bit like a big pie crimper to poke holes in the soil. This helps moisture travel down so it reaches roots, instead of staying on the surface. Handy tip: stiletto heels also aerate the lawn (for real) so wear them on it with pride.

Will a stone surface (patio, gravel, etc) help or hinder your garden in a drought?

Stone does use less water than a lawn, but it sucks up heat from the sun, and your drought-prone garden is likely in a hot place. That means putting stones on it means lightly cooking the soil underneath, as well as reflecting heat into all the plants (and you!). It's the worst contributor to the urban heat island effect. Stone also is not porous, meaning water runs off it and is wasted. Soil is your friend, as it drinks whatever the sky gives it.

What's the number one natural predictor of soil moisture?

A good soil is like a good savings account, but for water. It doesn't just hang onto what you (or nature) put in, it makes the best use of it, so that things can grow.

What should a good drought-tolerant soil contain?

Loamy soil is sandy. It has lots of gaps for water to go into and stay there. It's the best soil for hanging onto the water that it does get. If you don't naturally have loamy soil, then you can get compost or mulch that will help you out.

Why is grass so darn good at coming back from drought?

Grass grows from the bottom, unlike most plants. That means if you cut the top off, or simply let it shrivel for lack of water, the root is fine. The grass just grows again when conditions improve. That's why it is among the most successful plants in history.

Why should you sharpen your mower blade in a drought?

A ragged chop will not do your lawn any favors. Grass likes a nice, clean cut so it has minimum surface area from which to lose water. Sharpen those blades!

We did the bad grass. Let's talk good grass. If you want a drought-friendly grassy area, what's a good choice?

Buffalo grass is your friend! It's not as fat and jolly under the feet as bluegrass, but it's fine stuff. It can survive prairie living where the sun is strong and the rain unpredictable.

Time to talk about what else to plant besides grass! Which of these is a great drought-friendly flower that smells good?

Lavender is beautiful and it can take a drought. Its lovely purple flowers and strong smell will brighten up the garden!

From what areas of the world might you find plants that will work?

All these places are arid or prone to drought. That means plants that grow naturally there can be very beautiful and happy in your drought-prone garden.

What do all these have in common: Grand Mesa, Scarlet Bugler, Prairie Jewels?

These are all penstemon varieties, also known as beardtongue. They flower beautifully in a drought.

Let's talk foliage. Which of these will offer a nice gray-green foliage AND handles drought well?

Artemisia is a great choice. Lamb's ears will also provide a lovely gray-green foliage for a drought-prone garden. The other options here are lovely but not so good in a drought.

Which of these orange or yellow flowers is great in a drought?

Daylily is a great choice for your garden. It has vivid orange and yellow flowers that are very big. If you like daffodils, it's the closest thing.

Let's pick out a purple or blue flower that loves drought! Which of these fits the bill?

Catmint looks a little like lavender and loves a drought. It's a blue-purple flowering plant.

Let's pick out perennials. Which of these is NOT great in a drought?

All the other perennials here will survive drought. You can also plant onions, whether to eat or to look at!

How about some annuals? Which of these is NOT good in a drought?

Dahlia is a lovely plant but it does love water. Plant it in your rainy garden, perhaps where you spend the winter!

If you want a nice summer-to-winter bloom, which of these can handle the drought?

Creeping gray germander is a stunning flowering plant that blooms for literally several months at once! It can handle the drought to add a swath of gorgeous purple-pink to your garden.

Time to throw some shade. Which tree does NOT like drought?

The Atlantic White Cedar loves water. The other trees here will grow in drought though, and shade your beautiful garden.

What does a root stimulant do?

Many plants can live in drought, but only if they are mature. Getting them big enough to do the rest themselves is thus an investment in the future of your garden.

Which of these is the technical term for a plant that needs only a little water?

Xeric is basically the opposite of hydric. It means something that doesn't need a lot of water, like a cactus - or in this case, like your amazing garden!

What good is a garden without birds? What sort of birds might you see in your drought-prone garden?

All these birds are going to come to your place when they see your garden. They live in drier climates, but that doesn't mean they won't appreciate a more verdant area when they see one.

If you want to attract birds, where should you put the birdbath (other than, obviously, a place that cats can't reach)?

Shade is best, as it is cooler. Birds will come to your garden if you make it comfortable. A birdhouse, feeder and birdbath will bring them in. One trick with a birdbath is prick a small hole in a jug and put it over the birdbath to replenish it (as birds will drink or spill it and it will evaporate). The dripping sound will also attract birds to visit.

Don't let drought stop you enjoying a vibrant kitchen garden. Which of these is a drought-tolerant veg you can grow in your garden?

The Armenian cucumber hails from a place that doesn't get a lot of rain. That means if you want a delicious salad, this is the key veggie to grow in your drought-tolerant garden.

Which of these is a drought-tolerant vegetable?

The prickly pear cactus may not sound like food, but it is! It's actually yummy. The fruits and the leaves - known as pads - are both edible.

Which of these vegetables can also tolerate drought?

You probably have had this melon before but did not know its full name. The Iroquois melon is a wonderful sweet and tangy melon with orange flesh and a green rind. It'll grow in your desert garden!

Which of these veggies does NOT like drought?

Yep, avocados do not like drought. Thyme, okra and "pineapple" tomatoes do, though, so go ahead and get planting with them! Just get your avocados imported from someplace rainier.

Now for some water-saving questions! Let's build a path. What is a permeable stepping stone?

This path will let the water drain through it instead of off it. You're essentially capturing rain, which is free water! It also looks awesome.

What is gray water?

Gray water is "waste water from baths, sinks, washing machines, and other kitchen appliances" that is clean enough to re-use. If you expect a drought quite often, you should invest in a system that collects this water for use in the garden. It pays for itself!

What's the best way to collect water in a barrel?

Gutters collect rainwater so it goes safely away from your roof. Point the downspout into a barrel and boom, free water for when you need it.

What time of day should you water?

Early morning or evening are best to water, as the heat is lower, meaning evaporation is slower. That means more of the water stays on the plant long enough to soak into the soil and get into the roots.

What can steal water from your garden, and must thus be kept out?

A weed is any plant that is not where it should be. Get rid of them - they are taking the water from your beloved lawn and flowers!

What is a swale?

A swale is a trench that you cut into a slope. It is angled such that water that would otherwise run off the slope and be wasted goes into the swale and collects. Boom - more free water!

Why is a drip-irrigation system better than just watering?

Watering the soil is fine. Watering the root directly is better. This system can take the water to the root so nothing is wasted.

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Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

Gardening is a very healthy and pleasant activity for people of any age. With modern tools being the way they are, you really don't need to be very mobile to be able to maintain a lovely garden. However. there are a lot of places where it is hard to predict how much water you're likely to get, whether from the ground or the sky, in any given season, and as the climate warms, this will only become a more serious problem.

Droughts don't just happen in places like California or Arizona. They also happen in rainy places, as technically a drought is just another word for, "Less rain than this area typically gets." A drought is thus something that any gardener should be prepared to tackle. After all, there is nothing more miserable than working your butt off to make your garden a haven for you and your family, only to have it shrivel up and turn into a miserable brown wasteland. That means knowing what plants to plant, how to conserve water, how to use shade wisely and what fertilizers and tools to use are all key to a successful drought-proof garden. Do you know how to do all that? Let's find out!

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