The drought may be officially over in California, but the seven years it lasted are still having an impact. Dry conditions remain in many areas and experts say it may take several more years until the state is prepared to handle a future drought.

Drought-tolerant landscaping is a great solution for Sonoma County homeowners who want to continue the habits they developed during mandatory water restrictions. Taking a xeriscape approach to landscaping means choosing climate-appropriate plantings that are suited to available water.

Many people think a drought-tolerant landscape must be monotone and ordinary, but nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s are some of our favorite drought-tolerant landscaping ideas, one or more of which could be exactly right to bring new life to your garden.

Time to Lose the Lawn

If you haven’t already, replacing the turf grass in your yard can save you tons of money and time. Have a professional dig it up and replace it with one of these drought-tolerant alternatives:

  • Decomposed granite is a gritty granite rock byproduct that binds together when compacted. It doesn’t create dust when walked on which makes it a great choice for areas that don’t necessarily need paving such as driveways, pet areas, or patios.Rolling Lawn Turf Grass
  • Native grasses add movement as they wave in the win. Look for grasses that are native to your area. Several varieties grouped together make for a beautiful effect. Just be sure to group them according to height with shorter ones at the front of a border and longer ones behind them.
  • Pea gravel is an easy, quick, and economical decorative rock that comes in a variety of colors or a mix of earth tones. The cheapest versions tend to have sharper edges, so think twice before putting it down in an area where kids and pets will play.
  • Permeable pavers are great for directing water away from your home and help prevent erosion. Some people choose to have small plantings pop up through the openings between the pavers.
  • Artificial turf has come a long way in recent years with many versions almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Best of all, it doesn’t need water or fertilizer and is super low maintenance.

Finally, you might want to use a variety of materials to fill in the space left by removing the lawn. Several types of hardscape materials combined with drought-tolerant plants like lantana, succulents, and lavender give your garden visual interest and can be used to create small “rooms” throughout the yard.

Use Perennials for Flower Beds

Yes, you can have flower beds in a xeriscape garden. Popular colorful perennials include sedum, which comes in red, yellow, pink, white, and gold requires very little care, and Agastache, which resembles lavender, and bearded irises that give off a beautiful fragrance. Use taller perennials like Agastache or Bluebeard in the back row of the bed and stagger intermediate height varieties like coneflowers and sedum in front of them. Mounds of shorter, drought-resistant ornamental grass such as blue fescue are perfect for the front row.

Hardscape Design

It’s the ultimate in low-maintenance and brings a clean, minimalist look to your garden. Hardscaping like driveways, retaining walls, paved areas, and stone walkways adds great curb appeal. Rocks, boulders, and other hardscape materials are ideal for creating elevation changes that project harmony. Smaller perennials, mid-size shrubs, and tall trees set amongst or in front of boulders add visual interest. Statuary, birdbaths, and rock gardens make for good focal points around the yard.

Drought-Tolerant Trees

No landscape survives on pea gravel and perennials alone. A landscape that’s less thirsty doesn’t mean you must eliminate trees. Not only do trees add structure to the yard, but they also provide much-needed shade and oxygen. Their leaves, bark, and blooms add color and texture,  making them an essential anchor to most good landscapes.

Just as with drought-tolerant grasses and plants, it’s smart to look for trees that also need minimal or no additional irrigation. When picking them out, keep in mind that just because it’s native doesn’t make a tree drought-tolerant. Our famous redwoods, for example, require an enormous amount of water (which they get a lot of from fog) to survive. Native oaks also grow to sizes that are too large for most yards. Your best bet are trees that grow no taller than 25 feet. They won’t take over your yard and don’t have big water needs.

The best time for planting trees in Sonoma County is autumn, right before hoped-for rains begin. Newly establishing trees, including drought-tolerant ones, need a greater amount of irrigation for the first couple of years. By planting in the fall, much of the first round of water will be taken care of by Mother Nature.

Some good suggestions for drought-tolerant trees are:

  • The strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) has big, dark burgundy bark and produces round fruit all winter.
  • Arbutus Marina, a broad-leaf evergreen shade tree with shiny leaves, red, yellow, and orange fruit, and pink and white flowers.
  • Fruitless olive trees don’t make a mess but are known to withstand severe drought conditions.
  • Crape myrtles are a Northern California landscape mainstay that comes in a wide variety of colors. Best of all, they burst into bloom in late summer, right around the same time the other plants in your garden start to fade.

Drought-Tolerant vs. Drought-Resistant

It’s common to hear the two terms used interchangeably, but they differ in one important way: drought-resistant plants can survive for longer periods of time without water. Drought-tolerant plants need minimal water or rainfall to thrive. Aside from xeriscaping, other terms for drought-tolerant landscaping include water-smart, dry garden or landscaping, water conservation, and desert landscaping.

Learn More

Californians have come to accept that they will always face drought, or at least the threat of it, as we move into the future. Drought-tolerant landscaping is a beautiful way to work with the environment, not against it. It also allows you to relax in the shade instead of laboring over lawns and flower beds that require constant attention.

Your new garden may be drought-tolerant, but it can also be lush with color, texture, and flourishing blooms, even in areas that are historically dry. The truth is there’s nothing restrictive about drought-tolerant landscaping. It simply involves looking at landscape design in a new way, one that emphasizes water conservation and low maintenance.

We know that having so many choices can easily overwhelm so we’re here to answer any questions you might have about getting started on drought-tolerant garden design. Ready to spend less time maintaining your yard and more time enjoying it with family and friends? Contact us today to learn more about incorporating xeriscape principles into your home’s landscape.