Monday, 1 December 2014

Drought survivors in the garden

Our garden is made up of a number of quite different microclimates. There are areas of deep shade where, over the years, trees have grown to produce a thick canopy of leaves or shade-cloth screens the plants from the sun. In contrast, some areas receive full sun all day. Most of the garden falls somewhere between these extremes – loosely called part-shade. 
The different areas have quite different watering requirements.
A few areas of our garden are watered daily in warmer weather. Many are only watered when it rains. Some (in between) are watered weekly or fortnightly.

Our “normal” rain pattern is for dry winters, some rain during spring then the majority of our rain during summer and early autumn. This year has been particularly dry.

The vertical lines show the days on which it has rained and how much we got. The blue line shows the cumulative total for the year.

Almost no rain combined with very hot weather sorts the plants that can survive a drought from the more fragile ones. Of course, no plant can survive forever without water and even though they are surviving, many of ours would be looking a lot better with more water than they’ve been getting lately. It is, however, the perfect time to take notice and record which plants are the most drought tolerant. Not a full list - just a few I noticed over the weekend.

Some dry shade survivors

Zzplant -
Zamioculcas Zamiifolia. As long as it is in the shade seems happy with or without much water.
Clivia not only survive but flowered and are only ever watered by rain.
Persian Shield (Stromanthes dyerianus) surprised me. It would much prefer regular watering and looks almost dead, then after a tiny bit of rain bounces back.
Mondo grass is very forgiving. Again, it does better with adequate water but will continue growing without it.
Liriope in full sun will brown at the tips without watering, but in the shade seems to just continue on as normal.

Part shade survivors
Golden Candles, Brazillian Red Cloak, Hibiscus and other shrubs are in various spots around the garden. The plants that get watered looks much healthier of course, but the ones that get next to no water are still alive. Those in part shade seem to be doing better than those in full sun, however.
The alamandas don't seem to mind that we haven't watered them for a long time.
Bromeliads – This group of plants is so diverse in their requirements quite a few need very little water while others need a lot. Most will survive with only occasional water so long as there is shade from the hottest part of the day. With full sun they burn and eventually die. With no water at all they curl up their leaves and eventually die, but they are surprisingly resilient in less than ideal conditions.

Crotons, cordylines and dracenia seem quite similar in their water requirements. They will survive but not thrive in drought conditions but as soon as the rain starts again they will power ahead again - I hope.

Sunny spot survivors
Cardboard cycad - zamia furfuracea doesn't seem to notice that it's been neglected.

Pride of India / Jamaica have not been watered for months and look fine.

Plants that can’t survive without watering - not as many as you might think
You would expect ferns to be at the top of this list but some have surprised me with just how little water some ferns can survive on.
Begonias, Justica carnea and even Coleus shrivel  up and disappear without enough water
Lady Palms (Rhapis excels) goes brown quite quickly.

One group of plants that surprised me were the little succulents. I had them in full sun and watered them about once or twice a week. They were looking terrible. Some had died so I repotted them and put them in the shadehouse (temporarily) where they have been getting a daily mist of water and shade and they are recovering. I think over the hottest months of the year that can be their permanent home.



  1. I've been wondering what I can put in a patch of dry shade (and very poor water repellent soil). I wonder if any of these will suit.

  2. It is quite a similar story here in Brisbane's eastern suburbs. I really only water the front garden and the rest is left to fend for itself. This has been handy when I have had extended periods away from home with work. My red torch ginger, palms, frangipani, bromeliads, red cloak and various cycads all cope. On the driveway my spider lilies get very ratty but come good once we get the summer rain. I haven't lost many plants, but those have been in the more regularly watered front garden, where I water pretty regularly in spring when it is hot and dry and leave it for just occasional waters the rest of the year. I think the fact that I started my garden in a bad drought made me cautious of being too water dependent.

    1. Same here Marisa. We had drought for the first two years we started the garden so most of our plants are drought hardy, but I sometimes weaken and plants things that are not (and live to regret it).

  3. These survivors are stalwarts and to take note of for potential priorities to add to your new garden :)

    1. You're right. I've taken cuttings from a few already.

  4. You have some winners in your garden...the soldiers of the plant world that would power through ANYTHING!
    I lost quite a few plants in the drought earlier this year, for no amount of watering could save them from the extreme heat.
    Luckily for me I have a cadre of sharing and caring girlfriends who are more than willing to help me whip my garden back in shape with new babies.

  5. Good to take stock like that, the thing is that even though it is very dry right now we will get drenching rain for a few months, so my plants need to survive both drought and flood. I have had clivia on my wish list forever.

  6. I wish we lived closer Gillian. I would dig some up for you.


I would love to know what you think and appreciate your comments.


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