How to design and plan your dry soil garden

If scant rainfall or late-summer droughts are typical in your area, consider a garden created with dry soil in mind. Here are a few points to consider.

How to design and plan your dry soil garden

Sunken beds

Raised beds are a valuable asset in poorly drained or infertile soils, but you should take the opposite route for the plants you'd like to pamper in an arid garden. Beds that are slightly sunken are designed to collect rainfall and cast cooling shade over the soil.

  • After lowering the soil level by 10 centimetres (four inches), prepare a sunken bed the same way you would any other new planting site.
  • Loosen the soil and amend it with compost.
  • Besides making the soil more hospitable to plant roots, organic matter helps buffer the effects of chemical imbalances, such as excessive salt, which often builds up in dry-climate soils, and it also neutralizes acid or alkaline soil, conditions that can be harmful to many garden plants.
  • Mulching is the key to care-free gardening in dry soils. Choose a porous mulch that encourages water to quickly filter through and enter the soil. Large bark nuggets, rounded river rock, or other coarse mulch materials are good choices.
  • Take care not to build up a thick layer of mulch. Plants adapted to dry conditions resent being smothered in mulch. A generous 2.5 centimetres (one inch) of mulch, spread evenly over the bed in spring, will do the trick.

Timely transplanting

Even drought-tolerant plants need water during the first few weeks after transplanting, because their ability to survive with scant moisture depends in part on the presence of mature, far-reaching roots. There are several ways to reduce the time you must spend insuring that your dry-site garden is care-free from the very beginning.

  • Before removing a plant from its container, make sure that the soil in the pot is saturated. In addition to reducing transplanting trauma, wet roots slip free from pots more easily than dry ones. As a result, fewer roots are injured during transplanting, and every root is plumped up with water as you set the plant in place.
  • Whenever possible, set out new plants in the evening, so that they will not be immediately challenged by the drying effects of hot sun.
  • Look for periods when some cloud cover, or perhaps even rain, is in the weather forecast to undertake major planting projects, such as planting a large bed or setting out shrubs and trees.
  • If you must set out plants in bright, breezy weather, you can get them off to a strong start by covering them with temporary shade. Anything that filters sunlight will do, such as covering plants with bed sheets or a wooden lattice propped up by stakes.
  • Cardboard boxes, weighed down with a stone, are great for popping over small shrubs or young annuals, and upside-down flower pots make good shade covers for small perennials. Remove the shade covers after three days, because as soon as the plants begin to grow, they will crave sunlight.

Root's-eye view

The secret to survival for plants weathering droughts is having deep, water-seeking roots.

  • Long-lived shrubs and trees become more drought resistant the longer they are in the ground.
  • Locate annuals and perennials where you won't dig into and damage the root masses of the woody plants each time you replant or divide these more transient neighbors.
The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
Close menu