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How to Design a Drought-Tolerant Landscape

Many states are running low on water. Authorities are urging households to conserve water. Each of us is going to have to do our part to minimize drought-like situations in our communities. Drought is a typical cycle in the west.


If you want to reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to sustainability, consider a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant landscape with plants, ornamental grasses, and trees that require substantially less water to survive. Many native plants are very suitable for this approach. Here is a basic guide to designing a drought-tolerant landscape from Santa Rosa landscapers, Gardenworks Inc.

Evaluate Site Conditions

Evaluate your preferred site for your new landscape design. Study the areas that tend to get direct sunlight and the ones that are in the shade. Assess the areas that tend to get the most and least impact from the weather. Consider heat islands and cold pockets as these micro-climate areas of your garden area will have some effect on plant choice. Are you in a wind-sheltered area or exposed to the elements? You can use your findings to select the appropriate plants for your garden, this will also help facilitate proper plant placement. Plant plants that need more water in smaller and specific areas closer to the house foundation – especially if wildfire may be a consideration. Plant drought-tolerant plants in drier patches.

Evaluate Your Soil

To evaluate a certain section of soil, dig a hole around 12 inches deep, and fill it with water. If the water drains immediately, add organic compost. If the water pools and stays for 30 minutes or more before draining, also add compost. The addition of compost is beneficial in either case as in dry soils it aids in water retention and in heavy soils it adds porosity.  Compost really can work miracles in your garden soil.

Stones and Plants

Rock gardens and or using placement stones and dry stream beds bring the mountains to your garden.  Neither do they require supplemental water. In Sonoma County, many exposed rocks on hillsides become moss and or lichen-covered adding personality. Bringing these into a drought-tolerant landscape adds a “native” flair and uses space otherwise left for plants which reduce water use.

Use Succulents

Succulents are hardy and do not need much water to survive and thrive. Their smooth, fleshy, thick leaves retain moisture that can be used during times of drought. Be cautious though and do your homework as many varieties are not bullet-proof hardy in Santa Rosa gardens.

Cover the Bare Ground

Sun exposure can turn your ground into one giant lump of hard-packed soil, making it inhospitable to plants. To prevent this from happening, apply a layer of mulch or a drought-tolerant groundcover such as sedum. Keeping your soil covered will also improve its moisture retention abilities. The California Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO) recommends a 3” deep layer of organic mulch with 5% of the area covered left bare for ground-nesting bee pollinators. The Gardenworks team consists of experienced landscapers in Santa Rosa. We are committed to helping homeowners save water in their backyards without compromising on aesthetics or functionality. To discuss your project, call (707) 857-2050.

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