It might seem a tad absurd to think about drought-tolerant landscaping options in Northern Virginia. We’re technically sub-tropical, you know! This isn’t Arizona — we get loads of rain! And we do — except when we don’t. In the heat of the summer, it might be muggy and oppressive a good bit of the time and still not rain. It forces conscientious gardeners to offer supplemental watering to their stressed plants.

These options are simple yet effective at allowing for drought-tolerant landscaping around your home. By making these small changes, you can create an everlasting and gorgeous landscape for your home!

But there are a variety of ways to landscape so that bouts of dry weather don’t phase your garden.

Harvest the Rain

Like we said, this isn’t Arizona. We get plenty of rain. We just get too much at some times and not enough at others. But you can husband the rain in a variety of ways to make it last until the next rain storm. Basically, you will be saving the water that’s already falling from the sky and reusing it in the area where it fell. This method can also prevent land erosion and minimize the spreading of water pollution. By collecting the rainwater, we can also prevent flooding downland, into our rivers, lakes, and oceans.

That being said, as a general rule, the ground can hold a lot more water than a rain barrel can, so this option is not the most efficient out there. Let’s set aside rain barrels for the moment and look at other ways you can absorb that glorious free water.

Rain Gardens

At the lowest point on your property, or as near to the storm drains as you can get, install a rain garden full of richly absorbent organic material and plants that don’t mind sitting with their feet wet. The basic purpose of a rain garden is to collect rainwater from various areas around your landscaping that creates runoff, such as unabsorbed water from the grass and your roof. If you plant perennials and other flowering plants in a rain garden, you can efficiently use the extra rainwater to add an extra aesthetic element in your yard. Imagine using this extra water to water some of your favorite flowering plants: roses, daffodils, tulips, whatever you like! These rain gardens will catch and hold the rain long enough for the soil of your yard to absorb it, creating a reservoir during the hot season.

Rain gardens also have a dual function of filtering out pollutants and other chemicals in groundwater, which protects our environment, and for providing a home for insects and birds, who are vital for our collective ecosystem.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

We hammer on this a lot, but mulch is the easiest thing to add to your yard to make it more drought tolerant. Mulch has many functions across our yard, including insulation during cold months, providing a home for insects and other critters, and containing nutrients to the plant beds. However, mulch is also used for preventing excess water from draining away! Adding mulch on top of soil can keep the moisture in the soil for a little longer, allowing the water to be better absorbed. When the water is not draining away, we also have less seed loss, which allows for more plants to grow.

To use mulch for drought tolerance, you want to add about 2-5” of mulch on top of your soil. Too much mulch can cause fungus growth and the proliferation of rodents. It also is, quite simply, a waste of money. Too much mulch can also cause limited water and nutrients to be able to enter the plant bed, which defeats the purpose of mulching, so it is important that you do not pack the mulch too tightly or make the mulch bed too thick.

Use Good Environmental Design

Have you ever noticed how some houses are tiny, but everything is very comfortable, and some houses are huge, but you feel like you don’t have room for anything? That’s the way all types of design work. Being economical, far from making things worse, actually makes things better. And so it is with your yard. Think about the typical suburban lot. Very sunny, lots of grass, with maybe one shade tree or a couple ornamentals. This is typical, but it’s not very economical (except for the builders).

The grass takes up tons of water, and the sun means that the reflected heat off the house stresses it still further. But you can make these smart changes to make your yard water-economical and stunning.

Use Shade

It takes a long time to grow a shade tree, but you can easily use semi-dwarf varieties in a pinch. Shade reduces the speed at which water evaporates by keeping the temperature of your yard lower, keeping your mulch just a little more moist and your plants happier. Basically, if you do not have shade, the heat from the sun increases the temperature of your yard and your soil, which causes the water in your yard to evaporate. When this water evaporates, your yard (obviously) needs water to grow, otherwise it will dry out. Planting large trees that provide shade can prevent this from happening!

Get Rid Of The Grass

Grass is just about the worst water-guzzler there is, and it’s so high maintenance!

Be Economical with Hardscaping. Hardscaping is when you add a man-made functional or non-functional design to your landscaping. The most common types of hardscaping are patios and decks. Patios and decks do not require water, because they are made out of bricks or stone, so you are able to conserve water. Hardscaping is a great way to expand your living space, but it becomes a desert in the heat. Space out pavers widely and interplant with a hardy thyme. It will absorb water better and tolerate the heat. There is a lot of latitude in terms of what you can do with designing this hardscape and interpersing plants to create an area that is perfect and functional for parties, family nights, and a relaxing and rejuvenating space for you!

As you can see, drought tolerant planting isn’t that hard to do in Northern Virginia. For more ideas, visit JK Enterprise!

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