Grow these drought-resistant beautiful flowers in your garden to continue catering for pollinators and bring color into your garden even in a long dry spell.
Watering your garden through a drought can be very difficult. Empty water butts, hosepipe bans and lack of rainfall can spell disaster for gardeners. But there are plenty of drought-resistant flowers that are well adapted to survive these kinds of conditions. Luckily they will also thrive in wetter and more temperate weather.
It’s important to cater to our pollinators, especially when food is scarce. This might be in early spring when there aren’t many flowers out, or in extreme conditions where some of their usual forage is dying off.
Plants are continually losing water through pores on their leaves. Some plants have adaptations such as fewer pores, or a waxy cuticle covering the pores to reduce water loss. Also, some plants can develop very deep roots which helps them find water from deep in the soil.
How to drought proof your garden
Firstly, even if you are planting flowers that can cope with low water levels, there are some steps you can take to make your garden more hospitable and ensure its continued survival.
No-dig gardening is a great place to start with this. Applying a compost mulch to the surface of the soil each year (and more often if you want to bolster defences during a drought) is a great way to lock moisture into the soil and create soil that naturally holds more water.
With no-dig gardening, aggregates are formed by organisms in the soil sticking tiny particles together. As these aggregates are formed, spaces call pores open in the soil allowing water to travel down through the layers of the soil. This means that your soil can store water much deeper than if it had poor aggregation. Aggregates also act like tiny sponges, holding onto water right where your plants need it. This means that you end up with soil that is well aerated and moist.
The layer of mulch also acts as a physical barrier, reducing evaporation from the surface of the soil.
When establishing plants in your garden you should also aim to water more deeply and less often. This encourages deep-root growth.
How to choose drought resistant flowers
If you’re not sure how well a plant will cope with drought stress, there are a few signs you can look out for that are indicative of dry-tolerant plants.
If you have ever been to the Mediterranean or even to a botanical garden and seen this plant thrive in very dry conditions, the chances are it is specifically adapted to grow in those environments.
Thick or waxy leaves
Thick leaves, as we see on succulent plants are a sign that the plant will store water. These plants are very well adapted for growing in warm, dry areas, but be wary that many are not tolerant of the cold.
Some plants have what is called a waxy cuticle, covering the pores on their leaves. This feels slightly waxy and helps reduce the amount of water lost from pores.
If you are unsure, ask at your local nursery.
A cottage garden and vegetable garden classic, lavender is another Mediterranean plant, perfectly adapted for life in arid regions. This perennial herb is beautiful, fragrant and great for attracting bees and hoverflies. Lavender is a must-have plant, whether you are facing drought conditions or not! It has many uses when harvested and will use very little water once established.
Nepeta, commonly known as Catmint or Catnip, is another plant that is extremely good for attracting pollinators such as wasps, bees, and hoverflies. It is a beautifully fragrant herb with plenty of uses in the kitchen as well as the garden. Once established it is surprisingly drought tolerant, although it will grow faster with regular watering.
These pretty and easy-to-grow plants are also extremely tolerant of drought. They will self-seed easily, are great for pollinators and they’re edible. There are a number of varieties, some are grown as perennials and others as annuals, so there is something for everyone.
Another firm favorite in kitchen gardens and cottage gardens alike, Echinacea, or Cone Flowers are very hardy when it comes to warm and dry conditions. They come in a wide variety of colors, so you’re bound to find something to suit your taste. They are particularly popular with bumblebees, and they make a great herbal tea with plenty of health benefits.
This large and striking plant doesn’t share the characteristics of many of the other plants on this list but is surprisingly resilient when it comes to drought. It will survive in well-drained soils and once established produces a reliable show of large colorful flowers. Hollyhocks are easily grown from seed but will need space to grow as they can be very large.
This sweet, small, and brilliantly bright flower is, as the name might suggest, well adapted for life in warm dry conditions. They are easy to grow from seed and very hardy, making them a great low-effort plant. It is also a popular choice for pollinators and unlikely to take over your garden like our native poppies.
Some varieties are more drought tolerant than others, but the popular herb sage is a drought-tolerant Salvia, as is the quite different pineapple sage and salvia x jamensis varieties such as “Hot Lips” and “Amethyst Lips”. They are easily propagated from cuttings and are popular with pollinators. The x jamensis varieties flower from early summer right through to autumn.
Yarrow is well-known as a great pollinator plant and is a popular choice in show gardens in recent years due to its range of colors and its beautiful umbels of tiny flowers (see picture above). It is easy to grow, easy to pair with other flowers and grasses and very tolerant of drought.
This beautiful and unusual plant brings a structure and a splash of blue to the garden It is a very drought tolerant plant that will add interest with very little maintenance from you. There is a lot of variety with Sea holly, so it is worth looking at some of the variations to find something that will work in your space.
As with lavender, sage and catmint, rosemary is a flowering herb from the Mediterranean region. It is well suited to hot and dry conditions making it the perfect choice for a dry garden. It also has great culinary value and is great for pollinators whilst in flower.
Growing drought resistant flowers from seed
Even drought-resistant plants will need to be treated carefully as seedlings and transplants. They will need plenty of water to germinate and grow as seedlings, and of course, plenty of water to get themselves established in the garden. Under-watering seedlings or recently transplanted plants can seriously hamper their growth and may kill them entirely. So always make sure to only test a plants’ drought-hardiness once it is happily established in your garden.
If any plant is showing signs of water stress such as wilting, curling leaves or browning, it’s always a good idea to give them some water if you can.