The lone voice of horticultural reason

My Of The Week

“Drought tolerant plants means they don’t need to be watered.”

Ran into this one late last season after finishing installation of a large native pollinator garden comprised of beneficial native shrubs, perennials and grasses. I encouraged and won approval for installation of a sprawling drip irrigation system throughout the area, because, well, plants need water.

Objection from the client was only mild, but the question was asked: Hey, these are essentially native prairie plants, water them at installation but after that, shouldn’t they make it on their own?

No.  “Drought tolerant” means the plant typically will survive extended dry spells, but only after it has become established. Even desert plants such as cacti will have a tough time getting their seed to sprout and expand their size without naturally occurring snow runoff from nearby mountains and brief periods of late winter/spring rains.

Young, drought tolerant perennials, trees and shrubs should be watered well at time of planting, then treated similarly to non-drought tolerant plants in their first season. As well as the following early summer, and peak, hot, late summer months if it’s been very dry. Don’t shut off the water in the first two seasons. It’s in the third season that “drought tolerant” plants will—probably—be able to handle extended dry spells on their own.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener