Choosing Tough Plants for Tough Conditions

drought tolerant plants

A heavy load of mulch keeps these Flower Carpet roses thriving even in the high heat.

As drought and other difficult weather situations continue to increase, here are a few simple tips for choosing the right plants for your locality and conditions.

There are, of course, many scientific ways that you can determine which plants work best. For example, you can consider the Evapo Transpiration rate (basically the amount / movement of water within a plant and the subsequent loss of water as vapor through stomata in its leaves) or the Water use efficiency model that is a quantitative measurement of the yield produced over a growing season.  However, there are simpler and more practical means.

As you have probably gathered from some of my other blog posts, I am very much a supporter of simpler methodology as opposed to complex technical evaluations.

Determining what plants work best in tough dry conditions can be as simple as using a tool that I like to term the “Mark One Eyeball” method.  Here’s how it works: simply look at your garden (and your neighbor’s gardens) during times when the weather is hot and there is not much water around and notice which plants are coping with the temperatures and lack of rain versus which are suffering.

I know this isn’t particularly scientific but results are self-evident and don’t require any complex evaluations or equipment.

Drought gardening

A dramatic example of why lawn is considered a high water consumption product and, as you can see from the image, doesn’t look particularly nice after extended periods in heat with no water.


As an example, take a look at these images taken from our trial gardens in Silvan, Australia after many weeks of 40+ °C (104+ °F) temperatures, with no rain and very low humidity.

drought gardening

Rose gardens in the same area with the same treatment. Look at the amazing display still on show. Of course, with better conditions, these would look even nicer but here they still look preferable to what we see with lawn. (Flower Carpet roses after weeks of 104• F temps)

In choosing the plants that will work well in tough conditions, there is an abundance of literature and plenty of recommendations available from multiple sources including your local Extension Agents. But you need to be a bit cautious of what is recommended.  For example, whilst natives work in a lot of extremes, they are not the only alternative. In fact, in some cases native plants have other issues as compared to other tough plant alternatives. For example, here in Australia, our native Eucalyptus (Blue Gum) tree is one of the most fire-intensive plants, primarily because of the volatile compounds in the foliage cause explosive burning.

drought tolerant plants

Even though it’s drought tolerant Blue Storm agapanthus still benefits from an occasional watering with recycled water kept by this kitchen doorway.

Another way to counter concerns about the ability of plants to cope with high heat or low water is to consider their placement relative to your house and landscape. Use natural advantages like tree canopies and shaded areas to reduce their water needs, or plant closer to your kitchen door so that it’s easy to use recycled water to keep the plants irrigated.

And finally, regardless of which plants you choose to include in your garden, don’t’ forget to mulch! This stops your precious water evaporating before the plants can get to it. It also helps keep the soil cool so the fine plant roots aren’t cooked.

I hope that by using these simple techniques you are able better plan what will work for you if and when limited water or excessive heat is an issue in your area.

drought gardens

This popular plant (Phormium) is promoted as being drought tolerant due to the nature of the foliage / structure of the plant. However, I’m sure that after looking at this image you can make your own determination as to what might possibly look better in the garden.

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