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How to plant a garden that can thrive in drought conditions
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How to plant a garden that can thrive in drought conditions

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You can achieve a breezy, elegant yard — or even a lush tropical oasis — without monsoon levels of water.

With record-breaking heat waves and the highest drought levels in history, water-saving measures are top of mind for many places in the U.S. But conservation runs contradictory to warm-weather lawn care practices.

One solution for gardeners is xeriscaping, a style of landscaping designed to reduce water use. “Xeric,” or dry, doesn’t always mean cacti and succulents — it can mean native grasses and other plants adapted to dryer regions or hardscaping features like boulders, pavers and gravel, instead of thirsty lawns.

This type of gardening is more common where summers are hot and dry, but you don’t have to live in the Wild West to adopt water-saving landscaping for your yard. A garden with a Mediterranean, Southwestern or rock garden aesthetic is a natural match for xeriscaping. Here are some plant picks for growing a stunning garden with less water.

Groundcovers

With strategic use of grasses, border plants and groundcovers, you can maintain your garden without hourslong sprinkler runs.

  • Siskiyou Pink gaura, a native of southern Oregon, has feathery, red-tinged leaves and delicate flowers that bloom from spring to fall.
  • Perfect for a water-wise country garden is Huntington Carpet creeping rosemary. It’s fragrant, edible and evergreen — and grows well in containers.
  • Fire Spinner ice plant is so sturdy that it’s used to landscape California highways.
  • Elijah Blue fescue, a clump-forming grass with long, bluish-gray leaves, thrives on neglect.
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Showy flowers

You can achieve a lush tropical oasis without monsoon levels of water. These plants bloom brilliantly without daily watering, and can be planted in containers.

  • Fuchsia climbing plant Sharon Wesley bougainvillea can cover walls, arches, trellises and fences; bougainvillea also comes in white, pink, orange and purple.
  • Belgian Hybrid Orange clivia has strappy dark green foliage and bodacious clusters of vermilion blossoms that transform a back patio into a Hawaiian lanai.
  • Berries Jubilee woodbine honeysuckle is a cold-hardy climbing vine that produces copious cream-colored flowers and glossy red berries attractive to birds.
  • The fuzzy flowers on the kangaroo paw plant really do resemble little kangaroo paws.

Cacti and succulents

Not all cactus, agave, yucca or aloe plants are covered with forbidding spines. Several varieties can handle cold weather. Grow these clustered in containers.

  • Ruffled Red echeveria has thick, undulating mauve and seafoam-green leaves that resemble a bumpy cow’s tongue. It’s a perfect centerpiece for a container.
  • Krebs Desert Bloom hens and chicks has dark green, burgundy and grape-gray leaves that stand out from similar plants.
  • The Blue Flame cactus is prized by succulent collectors; it can run $40 to $60 for a 4-inch plant.
  • The large Santa Rita prickly pear cactus sports matte lavender and periwinkle paddles, Beware: the splintery prickles are not great for gardens with kids or pets.

Shrubs and trees

Woody plants add structure to your garden. These trees and shrubs don’t require much water once established, but wait until late fall before planting to let them settle in before spring.

  • Scarlet Bottlebrush is an Australian evergreen with brushy cerise flowers that tolerates a range of terrible growing conditions: lean soil, hot weather and low water.
  • Slender, deciduous crape myrtle trees range from 4 feet to a lofty 25 feet tall, and produce showy blooms.
  • Moon Lagoon dwarf eucalyptus has fragrant, silvery-sage leaves; plant it near windows. Cider gum eucalyptus is more cold-hardy.
  • Desert willow’s rhododendron-like flowers are a hit with hummingbirds.

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