10 Drought-Tolerant Landscaping Ideas

Drought Friendly garden

Whether you’re facing droughts and water restrictions in your hometown or looking to protect the environment from your own backyard, homeowners across the country are looking for ways to reduce how much water they use for their yards. These 10 drought-tolerant landscaping ideas can help you save money and time with a few clever touches.

There are many ways to make your yard more drought-tolerant, ranging from quick fixes to full landscaping projects. Read on to learn more about drought-tolerant landscaping and 10 drought-tolerant landscaping ideas that you can try out at home.

What is drought-tolerant landscaping?

Drought-tolerant landscaping makes lawns more water-wise by focusing on grasses and plants that are drought-tolerant, which can grow with minimal water. This landscaping style is especially important for arid regions and Mediterranean climates, but can be applied across the country for anyone interested in decreasing their water use.

Drought-tolerant plants are slightly different from drought-resistant plants, which can go without water for long periods of time. Both varieties can play a part in drought-tolerant landscaping, though. 

10 drought-tolerant landscaping ideas

1. Shrink your lawn

Container garden
Daryl_mitchell | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

Your green grass lawn may look pretty, but chances are it’s not great at handling dry periods. Transforming part of your lawn into a drought-tolerant garden is one great way to reduce water use. As a plus side, these gardens will create visual interest that breaks up all the green. 

Here are just a few drought-tolerant garden ideas:

Looking to hold onto your beloved grassy landscape? Consider replacing your lawn with one of the many drought-tolerant grasses available for use. From fescues and zoysiagrass to native buffalograss, there are plenty of options to keep the lawn you love while making it a little more hardy. You can even accessorize with ornamental grasses for a drought-friendly focal point. 

2. Install drip irrigation

Drip irrigation system
Temmuzcan | Canva Pro | License

Drip irrigation is a thrifty watering system that sends small, targeted amounts of water directly to the roots of your lawn grass and garden plants. This saves on water by avoiding evaporation and increasing the water efficiency in your yard.

Here are a few of the many available types of drip irrigation systems:

  • Poly tubing, which you can measure to the appropriate size and install sprayers
  • Soaker hoses, which “bleed” water directly from pores
  • Drip tape, which comes in different amounts of spacing and is best for raised flower beds

There are pros and cons to each style of drip irrigation, so choose the one that best suits your needs. 

3. Keep soil covered

Covering soil with your planting scheme helps to avoid evaporation and increase the drought tolerance of your landscape. Here are a few ways to help your soil retain moisture: 

4. Grow native plants

Coneflower native plant

There are plenty of drought-tolerant plants out there, but the ones that will grow the best in your yard are the native plants that have adapted to local conditions over time. Plants native to your area are already hard-wired to the rainfall rates in your backyard. They’re an easy choice for a drought-tolerant landscape, and a plus, they’ll usually attract plenty of pollinators. 

5. Select a few succulents

Stonecrop_succulent plant

Succulents store water in their fleshy leaves for use over time, making them a great option for homeowners looking for drought-tolerant plants. You might have seen them nestled into windowsills, but these hardy plants are more than just houseplants. 

Sedum succulents, also known as stonecrops, are a hardy groundcover with native varieties across the U.S. Other varieties can provide a natural touch for your rock garden, or interesting edging near walkways in your landscape design.

6. Group plants with similar needs

A little water goes far in your garden if you group together plants that use it the same way. Setting your low water plants in a different section of the garden than water-hungry irises and daylilies means you can concentrate your watering where it’s most needed, reducing evaporation and water waste.

7. Add an outdoor living space

Adding an outdoor living space makes it possible to save water by reducing the area of your lawn that needs watering to begin with. A deck, outdoor living room, or patio will cut back on the grass that needs maintenance while adding an exciting space to enjoy the outdoors. These are also great spaces for container gardens, allowing you to retain a green feel while using less water overall.

8. Dress up your parking strip

If you’ve got a sidewalk in your neighborhood, you might also have a “parking strip”–– a thin stretch of no-man’s-land between the sidewalk and the curb. These are nicknamed “hellstrips” because they’re often neglected and can weather extreme conditions, from foot traffic to road salt, dog poop, and even parking mishaps.

But planting the rough terrain of a parking strip can help increase the drought tolerance of your landscape, fighting erosion and adding curb appeal to boot. Dress it up with low-maintenance plants that don’t grow above 4 feet tall for safety reasons. Coneflower echinacea and black-eyed Susans are good examples.

Note: Before planting, check to make sure your city allows parking strip gardening, and keep in touch with local regulations.

9. Install a rain barrel

Rain barrel
Schulzie | Canva Pro | License

You may have heard of saving for a rainy day, but setting up a rain barrel will let you save up for a dry one! Rain barrels increase your lawn’s drought tolerance by making the most of the rainwater you already get. They can be set up at the ends of gutters and hooked directly into garden hoses for extra water supply in a pinch.

Note: Never use water from a rain barrel to drink or cook food.

10. Install porous hardscaping materials

Demonstration of porous hardscaping materials work
JJ Harrison | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

If you’re planning on installing hardscaping elements, using porous materials in their design will make sure rainwater gets through them and into the ground below–– saving water and preventing flooding. 

Permeable asphalt and concrete will let water seep through, as will interlocking concrete pavers. Instead of mortar or cement, try adding a layer of gravel to fill in the space around stepping stones.

Benefits of drought-tolerant landscaping

Whether you live in California or the East Coast, there are plenty of benefits to drought-tolerant landscaping. Even homeowners in areas that get consistent rainfall will benefit from making their lawns a little more water wise.

Here are a few perks of drought-tolerant landscaping:

  • It saves money. Even if you’re not facing a drought, you’ll cut down on your water bills.
  • It saves time. Instead of spending hours standing over your yard with a hose, you’ll be able to kick back and relax.
  • It’s good for the environment. Conserving water at home is good for you and the ecosystem around you.

FAQ about drought-tolerant landscaping

What can I put in my front yard instead of grass?

If you’re looking for an alternative to lawn grass, consider a drought-tolerant groundcover, a wildflower meadow, or a xeriscape.

What is a good groundcover to walk on?

Sedum is an easy groundcover to walk on that will also help increase the drought tolerance of your landscape. Try a native variety to make sure it adapts to your yard easily.

Is it better to keep grass long or short in drought?

In periods of drought, mow your grass a little longer–– the highest recommended height. This will avoid giving your lawn extra stress. 

Help your lawn thrive, no matter the weather

If you’re looking to increase the drought tolerance of your lawn, you don’t have to worry about upending your grass and choosing between different garden designs on your own. Local landscaping pros can provide insider advice with a professional perspective, so you can save money and time without the stress.

Looking for help maintaining your new drought-tolerant lawn? Connect with a local lawn care professional who can mow, trim, and edge.

Main Image Credit: Onepony | Canva Pro | License

Annie Parnell

Originally from the Washington, D.C., area, Annie Parnell is a freelance writer and audio producer based in Richmond, Virginia. She is passionate about gardening, outdoor recreation, sustainability, and all things music and pop culture.