Xeriscaping? My friends give me a hard time because I use the Latin names for plants! I’ll likely be teased unmercifully for using the word Xeriscaping, which quite simply refers to landscaping or gardening practices that reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation.

Despite the fact that we live in a Rainforest here on the coast of British Columbia, and that we have one of the highest rainfalls in the region, British Columbians almost always need to be careful with their water use during the summer months.  Our Okanagan climate, on the other hand, usually sees much colder winter weather with many centimeters of snow accumulation. After the spring thaw, the weather usually turns arid and can generally be classified as “semi-desert”.

Gardening in these areas, though extremely rewarding, can be challenging when the dry summer months arrive.

Drought Tolerant Plants

To ensure success when gardening in dry summer regions, it is advisable to select plants that are well adapted to these arid conditions.  I usually look to the origin of plants to determine their suitability to dry soils.  Most plants from Mediterranean regions are often well suited to our region.  Some of the plants we treat as annuals here, are truly perennial where they come from.  In other words: This means that the frost kills them in the fall instead of the plant going into a winter dormancy.  Eg. Lantana camara and Argyranthemum frutescens (Marguerite Daisies.)  These beauties will add striking colour to your garden or planter but will need to be replaced when the weather turns.

It should be noted that most plants are only drought tolerant once they have established a good root system.  So you will need to water regularly until they are established.

6 great drought tolerant annuals for a sunny location:

  1. Marguerite daisies

    Credit: Proven Winners
    Marguerite Daisy ‘White Butterfly’

  2. Zinnia

     3. Lantana

    4. Gazanias

       5. Portulaca

Credit: Ball Horticultural Company
Portulaca ‘Happy Hour Mix’

      6. Nemesia

Opal Innocence® Nemesia

6 great drought perennials for a sunny location:

  1. Lavender


2. Achillea (Yarrow)

3. Euphorbia

4. Sedum

5. Thyme

6. Sempervivum


4 drought tolerant annuals for a shady location:

  1. Coleus

2. Impatiens

3. Wax Begonia

Credit: Proven Winners

4. Begonia rex

5 drought tolerant perennials for a shady location:

1. Pulmonaria (Lungwort)

Credit: Proven Winners
Pulmonaria ‘ Pretty in Pink’

2. Heuchera

3. Ajuga

Credit: Skagit Gardens

4. Liriope (Lily turf)

5. Hostas


Amending the soil

There are a few ways to overcome dry periods for plants in the garden.  One method is to amend the soil.

One of the most common ways to improve water retention in the soil for plants is by adding moisture retaining organic material to the soil when planting your newly acquired plants.  The addition of coconut coir, peat, compost or manures will go a long way to add life giving moisture to your soil. If you are looking to make a potting soil more water retentive for planting, the addition of a polymer called “Soil Moist” will provide moisture for up to a week.  Note: This product is not organic.


In addition to amending the soil, applying a thick layer (1-2”) of mulch can assist plants make it through to the next watering.  It should always be noted that if you do add mulch to the top of your soil, that you water carefully, taking into account that the mulch will absorb some of the water you are applying.  It is recommended to check after you have watered, to ensure that the water you have applied has soaked deep into the soil where the plant’s roots are located.

Efficient watering

The best method of watering in hot dry weather is by drip irrigation.  Using a water weeper hose, or a drip irrigation method, puts water where it is needed rather than via sprinkler which may be blown away or has a higher chance of evaporation.  When watering, it should be remembered that plant roots should be encouraged to grow down into the soil by infrequent, deep watering, rather than regular, shallow watering.  Take the time to check how deep you have watered after you are done with the hose.  It may be surprising how long it takes for soil to become reasonably moist.

Time of watering

Watering early in the day is by far the best time to water.  Watering in the evening can encourage molds to form during the cool of the night.

Using a saucer under a planter

If you are gardening in containers it would be suggested that the planter be placed in a saucer or plant tray.  Water will accumulate and be wicked up by the soil in the planter in no time.  If water remains after a couple of hours, it would be advisable to empty it out to avoid root rot.  A turkey baster is an invaluable tool for this task.  Remove these trays in the winter to prevent a soggy root system.

Watering globes

Another way to assist plants during dry periods is to install water globes into the soil around your plants.  These handy accessories come in many forms from decorative handblown orbs to terracotta tipped vessels that are open topped for easy filling.  These water storing devices allow water to slowly pass through their ceramic walls to the soil below affording a lengthier period between watering.

Written by: Peter Fitzmaurice

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