Drought-Resistant Landscapes

Many homeowners are looking for gardens and plantings that can thrive with minimal water. Drought-tolerant landscaping offers the benefits of a beautiful outdoor space while conserving this precious resource. Here’s how to plan your low-water home garden.

First things first: how do you plan to use the space? Consider seating areas, pathways, and areas for pets or kids. Drawing a map of the space can help you visualize the flow as well as note important considerations like sun, shade and slope.

Conduct a soil test and amend your soil accordingly with organic matter like compost. If you have an irrigation system, test it for leaks or cracks and repair as needed. If you don’t have any irrigation to consider, now is a good time to think about adding a system like drip irrigation or soaker hoses with timers.

As for plantings, consider plants that are native to your region. According to the USDA hardiness system, inner Portland is zone 8B. 

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Cover the Ground

Bare soil is not hospitable to plants, and covered soil holds moisture longer which is key in creating a drought-resistant garden. Cover all soil with mulch, river rock or a drought-resistant groundcover like sedum or thyme.

Not all mulches are created equal, though, so use the soil cover that is appropriate for each area. Organic mulches like wood chips and bark dust hold moisture, which is good for some areas of drought-resistant gardens but may rot the stems of cacti and succulents. Stones and pebbles, rubber mulch and artificial turf are all great options for drought-resistant landscaping.


When choosing plants for your design, you want to find those that love full sun and good drainage. All plants will need water initially when settling into their new location. Once established, though, these plants will need little or no water during hot summer months.

Trees like incense cedar, fig, ash, juniper and sumac are great for dry zones that get very little water. If planting grasses, fescue, silver grass, fountain grass and sedge offer delicate greenery with low watering needs.

Perennials and herbs add interest and pops of color to a space. Choose from drought-tolerant flowers like butterfly weed, evening primrose, sea holly and cape fuschia. Rosemary, thyme, oregano and lavender offer low-water landscaping that is also edible. Not only do these plants add beauty, they also invite garden friends like hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

In addition to succulents like cacti and yucca, shrubs make great borders or add interesting height to a space. Crape myrtle, butterfly bush, smoke bush, elderberry and oregon grape are great choices for a low-maintenance yard.

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Taking Care of Your New Garden

Aerate and fertilize any turf in spring and fall, as well as prune the trees, shrubs and perennials. Compost any dead plant material and check irrigation system for leaks or cracks. While drought-tolerant landscapes reduce the amount of water you use, you won’t eliminate the need for water entirely. Expect to water more frequently the first few weeks after planing. From then on, check on plants from time to time for pests and disease, as well as to ensure they look healthy and happy.

Drought-resistant gardens are a good opportunity to add unique and beautiful plants like kangaroo paw, sticks on fire, and artichoke to your space. A low-maintenance garden is not only an enjoyable part of your property, but it is also a great way to conserve natural resources especially in dry areas.

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