Dealing with Drought in the Garden

gardens in drought

Auckland Botanical Gardens thrive despite repeated droughts

As part of my usual pilgrimage to the biggest horticultural show in the world (IPM Essen), I recently spent a few days in California at the annual sales meeting for one of our key grower partners, Colorspot Nurseries.

Interestingly enough, as I watched the temperature reports from the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne where the temps were hitting 108⁰F +; it was an unseasonably (and very pleasant) 85⁰F in Southern California and one of the key topics being discussed was to do with water, or lack of it.

drought gardening

Flower Carpet roses lakeside during Australia’s drought

The discussions about the lack of water with drought projected for CA and northern TX, and also the bushfires nearby at the time all reminded me of recent times in Australia. Although the last 2 years have seen rainfall return to normal in Australia, before that we were subject to a drought that extended for 13 years and resulted in many bans and initiatives to conserve water  – all of which changed the way many of us manage this precious resource.

Whilst gardening may seem a luxury for many during times when there is little water available, it is important that we try to manage and retain the greenscapes about us. It is nearly impossible to replace mature trees lost through lack of water and well-managed gardens use only a minimum of water and keep our environment in balance.

There is not only an economic loss in abandoning gardens (public and private) during times of drought.  For example, mature trees cost a lot of money to replace, if they can be replaced at all, and can keep surface temperatures down.  However, there is also a social loss with the reduction in outside spaces we can all enjoy.

Many of you will be asking how can we responsibly continue to maintain a garden when water is in short supply? I can assure you from our experience in Australia that it is not only possible but also relatively easy to achieve.

Here are a few of the tips from my experience to help you prepare and maintain your garden for drought and whilst this list is by no means complete it will go a long way to ensuring your garden survives and thrives.

drought gardens

This well mulched garden thrives, even after a long summer of high heat and drought conditions

Mulch – mulching garden beds and around trees is a key component to ensuring that any moisture applied is not lost through evaporation and has the added benefit of also reducing weeds.


using grey water in the garden

New Zealand family using grey-water in the garden.

Watering – to start with, try to use the recycled water from your sink or shower (simply put a bucket in the shower when showering), but also ensuring that you water the garden either early in the morning or late in the evening to reduce evaporation.


drought tolerant plants

Well-mulched Coral and Amber Flower Carpet roses continue to thrive after 45°C (113°F) temperatures and no water.

Plant Palette – selecting plants that have proven drought tolerance.  And don’t be fooled into thinking that all flowering plants need a lot of water.  For example, some roses like the Flower Carpet® rose series are very low-water-use plants once established and cope well with drought conditions. You will need to consider alternatives for high water use plants like many annuals but there are many options available that are ideally suited to containers, such as the Tropicanna® cannas which use little water and look fantastic.

Lawns – Replace lawns, which are very high water use and immediately start to show the ravages of drought ahead of other parts of the garden, with garden beds and apply the suggestions above.

drought gardening

Beautiful floral displays are still possible, even without a lawn as seen here with Tropicanna canna and mixed perennials

There are of course many other tips / tricks that we can offer from our experience in Australia about gardening during drought but the key message is that “you don’t have to stop gardening due to drought.  Simply change the way that you garden to adapt to the conditions.

Interested in learning more about using grey water in your gardens?  Here are a few helpful links:

Grey water Retrofits

Collecting and Recycling Water

Catching the Water



arid gardens

Flower Carpet Pink and Red roses thrive at a Winery in arid Paso Robles, CA.

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