Garden Survival In An Intense Summer Drought: Top 10 Tips

Jonathan Garner FAIH RH is the Director of Puddleton Gardens and shares his tips on garden survival as water restrictions reach Level 2 in Sydney. In many regions, the level of restrictions is already much higher.

Find a Professional Horticulturist to keep your garden alive in this drought.

“In a drought, the survival of your plants is about providing conditions that reduce water use, promote water efficiency and provide enough water to allow them to survive without excessive usage”, says Jonathan.

“Professional horticulturists encourage their clients’ gardens to produce deep roots in well-maintained soils that make the best use of rainfall and deep irrigation. This is much better than waving the hose around on a hot afternoon, which wastes water and does nothing to promote your plants’ resilience”, he said.

“These are the top ten pieces of advice I offer my clients:”


1. Choose Hardier Plants

There are many native and exotic plant species that can cope well in a drier garden situation. Talk to your professional horticulturist about species and methods that will better cope with drought.

2. Stop Worrying About the Lawn

Lawns are hard to keep alive in the dry, with a large surface area usually exposed to the Sun and the need for a lot of water. Lawns will generally recover after some rain but under tough water restrictions, you are better off prioritising more valuable plants.

3. Get Tough on the Weeds

Weeds need to be removed as they consume precious moisture and will usually outlast your garden plants.

4. Use Mulch Carefully

Mulches are good value because they lower the losses of water from evaporation off the soil surface. However, mulch can prevent rainfall from reaching plant roots and are best used with dripper systems placed on the soil surface and then covered with mulch. You can use drippers before 10 am and after 4 pm for up to 15 minutes.

5. Promote Shade

Any form of shading is good because it reduces evaporation. You can use shade cloths, arbors, pergolas or taller plants to promote cooling.

6. Water Deeply and Less Often

Directing water to the plants’ roots is where it has benefit and anywhere else is generally wastage. The reason water restrictions are early and later in the day is to put the water to work effectively. Ideally use drippers or a slow-dripping bucket, or even ice cubes if you have smaller pots.

7. Use Soil Wetting Agents to Promote Soil Water Uptake

Dry soils can become water-repellent which makes them powdery and almost impossible to wet thoroughly. Using a commercial wetting agent can break up the waxy films on soils and allow water to soak in properly.

8. Save Water From Other Sources For the Garden

Households often produce wastewater that otherwise could be used in the garden. Water from washing up, showers, waiting for the hot water or even the airconditioning condenser water can be applied to the garden and keep it alive.

9. Water in the Early Morning if Possible

Plants are like people – they get themselves ready for the day ahead by filling up with moisture just before dawn (source). On a hot day, a short soak before the sun comes up is the best use of precious water for special plants as it helps them make it through the day.

10. Gently Prune Excessive Foliage

Pruning gently can reduce the leaf area and the amount of water that the plant uses. However, you need to be a bit careful as exposed foliage can burn in the heat and damage the form of the plants. Keeping straggly summer growth gently pruned regularly promotes a good healthy plant with a consistent shape.


These tips were drawn from Jonathan’s interview with Linda Moon published in Domain on November 25, 2019.

Leave a Reply