Drought Tolerance

Frog Rain Gauge in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Frog Rain Gauge (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Hold on to your hoses folks, because if the rainfall we received for April (in Connecticut about an inch) is any indication, we’re in for another dry one.  Don’t be fooled by the green grass and flowering shrubs; if this trend continues our plants are going to become very stressed in the near future.  But there a few things we can do to help them survive.

Mulch:  Spreading a thin layer (about 1 to 2 inches) will help the soil retain moisture and minimize weed infestation, while avoiding the depths that attract burrowing critters. Keeping the mulch to a minimum will also avoid compaction, which can actually repel water during the driest seasons.  I usually use shredded products that are lighter in color to help reflect the light and keep the garden soil cooler.  Be sure you understand where your mulch comes from to ensure that there are no weed seeds or unknown contaminants processed in.

Watering Tree in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Watering tree during dry season (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Water:  Established plants, shrubs and trees should be able to withstand longer periods of drought, but newer introductions (less than three years) may require some assistance.  Younger trees and shrubs are much more susceptible to stress than plants, which usually acclimate within a year.  I recommend the one inch rule for newly planted trees and shrubs; every week you don’t receive an inch of rain you will need to water.  While you don’t want to drown your plants, it is really important to keep the soil from completely drying out.  Using a soaker hose (that allows a modest trickle to slowly saturate the soil) is a perfect tool, or running a hose at a low rate for a sustained period will produce the same benefit.  I’ve recently taken to using the Treegator (www.treegator.com), a durable plastic bag that wraps around the tree trunk allowing water to slowly penetrate to the roots below.  Simply fill up the bag and go about your business, rather than standing with a hose for hours.

Weed:  Remove any unwanted grass and weeds from around the base of your plants, trees and shrubs.  During times of intense heat and inadequate rainfall, the weeds and grasses will rob your plants of necessary moisture and nutrients essential to their survival.

A Mix of Drought Tolerant Plantings in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Nepeta, sedum and grasses are great drought tolerant plants (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Pick Drought Tolerant Plants: There are an increasing variety of plants and shrubs available with better drought tolerance, but that’s not to say they don’t require some watering during long dry spells or for the initial establishment period.  Many natives will be quite capable of handling the crazy weather patterns as well, so be sure to consider these alternatives when creating a new garden space.

Mow High:  Raise your mower height between 3-1/2 to 4 inches (or tell your lawn company to do so) and you’ll reap immediate rewards.  Letting the lawn grow longer allows the grass to develop a deeper root system and helps to keep the weeds from taking over.  A thicker lawn retains moisture, provides a healthy environment for many ground insects and looks great when everyone else’s yard is a dust bowl.

Lush Lawn in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Mowing higher promotes a lush, healthy lawn (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Conserve Water:  Look for ways to minimize your water use in the home and consider utilizing grey water systems or collection systems for your outdoor watering needs.  A simple rain barrel (www.rainbarrelsource.com) below your gutter can catch enough water for many garden plantings (keep covered to prevent mosquitoes), even placing buckets under your air conditioners will result in enough water for multiple container plants.

No matter what we do, if Mother Nature decides to deprive us of moisture for long periods of time, many of our plants will suffer.  But being proactive will help us to understand how much of an impact we can make, despite the odds against us.


  1. Where did you get the frog rain gauge? My father-in-law had one just like it that broke. And I have been searching everywhere to replace it.

    • Hi Jessica, I purchased that rain gauge online from Gardener’s Supply Company many years ago. I lost mine in a fire last year . . . The closest replacements I found were online at Frontgate and Wayfair. Good luck!

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