Drought resisting plants
Gardening in hot, dry, sunny beds, borders or whole gardens can be a challenge. Full sun and a fast-drying soil may mean relying on drought-resisting plants for success.
What to look for
- Direct sunlight for most of the day and most of the year
- Wilting plants
- Plants with brown, dead or shrivelled leaves
- Lack of flowers
- Lack of fruit in dry soils
Hot, dry, sunny sites
While having a garden with no shade and being open to the sun all day long may seem idyllic for us, it isn’t always that friendly for plants.
Being in full sun for most or all of the daylight hours and for days on end means that plants have to have access to a constant supply of water in the soil or compost for their roots to absorb. If water shortage occurs, plant growth slows down or stops, flowering may be reduced or stops altogether, plants start to shrivel up, their leaves die and eventually the whole plant dies.
Luckily, there are a large number of plants that have developed various survival methods to cope with sunny, hot, dry conditions. The vast majority of these are regarded as being “drought resisting”.
Drought resisting, rather than completely drought resistant, since nearly all of them only become so once they are established and have produced a good root system, deep into the soil. So, it’s important to ensure they are well watered in after planting – giving one good soaking every few days rather than little and often – to ensure they become established as soon as possible.
Plants that aren’t drought resisting will need regular, thorough watering throughout summer. Always aim to water directly onto the soil, rather than over the leaves.
Sunny gardens on sandy soils are even more prone to drying out than those on clay soils.
As well as watering as and when necessary, applying a 7.5-10cm (3-4in) deep mulch of organic matter, or a 1-2in (2.5-5cm) deep mulch of gravel which looks more natural in Mediterranean planting schemes, after planting will help insulate the roots from hot, sunny conditions, maintain soil moisture levels and keep weeds at bay. It is important to apply the mulch to already moist soil; adding it to dry soil will make the situation worse. Planting membranes also help to maintain soil moisture levels, as do adding water-retention gel to the soil or compost.
When buying plants, smaller plants establish quicker and need less water than large or specimen plants. As a result, they soon overtake bigger plants.
Wherever possible, plant in autumn so plants can start to establish before the really dry weather arrives. Plants not reliably hardy or that naturally grow in Mediterranean and other warm areas are best planted in early spring.
Before planting, thoroughly soak the roots in a bucket of water for 20-30 minutes.
What’s good about hot, dry, sunny sites?
Plants that prefer sunny positions, or absolutely need full sun to ripen their wood or provide the hot, dry conditions they would experience in their natural environment, will thrive and flower profusely.
What’s bad about hot, dry, sunny sites?
Plants may dry out very quickly and may need regular, thorough watering during summer. If the soil is very sandy, it drains very quickly and plants dry out even quicker. It needs lots of preparation and incorporation of bulky organic matter to hold what water is available.
The leaves of foliage plants – especially those with large or thin leaves – may dry out very quickly, become scorched or burnt, shrivel up and die.
When buying plants, always look out for drought resistors. Good indictors of drought tolerance include fleshy, hairy or waxy leaves, silvery or grey leaves, thin grass-like or other reduced leaves and scented foliage.
The following are particularly regarded as being suitable for hot, sunny positions.
Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst’
Brachyglottis (Senecio) ‘Sunshine’
Climbers and wall shrubs
Fallopia (Polygonum) baldschuanica
Jasminum officinale and Jasminum nudiflorum
Bulbs & bulbous plants
Annuals and bedding plants