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Drought-Tolerant Landscaping & Garden Ideas

The sunny, dry climate of Southern California is ideal for days out shopping and lazing on the beach. However, it means that water can be scarce—and this affects the home garden. In this blog, we’re going to show you drought-tolerant landscaping ideas that will allow your garden to survive—and even thrive—in the dry climate of Los Angeles.

1. Take Your Inspiration from California Natives

The most important choice you’ll make when designing your garden is which plants to include. While you may love the lush foliage of elephant ears, hydrangeas, and tree ferns, these plants take a lot of precious water to keep alive and are more suited to areas with high rainfall.

Fortunately, if you choose a diverse variety of California native and desert-loving plants for your Los Angeles home, you can have a drought-proof garden that requires very little water and will look fabulous into the future. Here are some drought-tolerant landscaping ideas to help with plant selection.

California Native Trees

Any garden that is self-sustaining will mimic the layers that are present in natural ecosystems. A tree layer provides shade, holds the soil together, and provides moisture for surrounding plants. These California natives are perfect for large Los Angeles home gardens:

  • Big Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum)
  • Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum)
  • Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)
  • Beach Pine (Pinus contorta contorta)
Drought-Tolerant Grasses

Grasses are an easy way to add texture, shades of green, and drama to a low-water garden and are great for small spaces. In our drought-tolerant landscaping ideas, we suggest the following grasses for your front or back garden:

  • Sheep Fescue (Festuca ovina “Glauca”)
  • Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens)
  • Purple Needle Grass (Nassella pulchra)
  • Giant Wild Rye (Elymus condensatus)

Succulents and Cacti

Succulents are one of the most well-known additions to a desert garden that cover the ground with diverse textures and need very little water. Plus, succulent gardens in Los Angeles front yards often become the envy of your neighbors! Many even have colorful flowers in the spring and summer seasons. Consider the following drought-tolerant landscaping succulent ideas for the driveway or along the edge of the house:

  • Chalk Dudleya (Dudleya pulverulenta)
  • Our Lord’s Candle (Yucca whipplei)
  • Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis miller)
  • Hen and Chickens (Sempervivum tectorum)

2. Work with Your Soil Type

When choosing the drought-tolerant plants that could be right for your garden, you will also need to take your soil type into consideration. To find out what type of soil you have, you can make some observations based on color and consistency, send your soil for testing, and locate your home on this map of soil types in Los Angeles and surrounding areas.

Here are some drought-tolerant landscaping ideas for each of the main soil types found in the Los Angeles area:

Sandy or Silty Soil

These types of soil drain very quickly and can tend not to store as many nutrients as clay or loam soil. Choose plants that need a lot of drainage (those that don’t like “wet feet”), and add organic matter to help hold in the nutrients. Drip-irrigation is the most effective form of watering.

Clay Soil

Clay soil forms a ball if you roll it in your fingers and typically retains a high level of nutrients and water—making it ideal for agriculture. The downside is that clay soil can become dry and cracked with hot weather. For drought-tolerant landscaping ideas with clay, add some organic matter. Organic material can help to aerate clay soil and stop it from becoming waterlogged.


Loam soil is thought of as the “ideal” soil as it contains the perfect ratio of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. Most plants will do well in loam soil or a variation of it, provided that their moisture, light, and temperature requirements are also met.

3. Maximize Water Collection and Retention

Drought-tolerant landscaping ideas aside from plant choice focus on collecting and retaining water on your property for as long as possible.

To collect water in your garden, consider installing some rain barrels to collect runoff from the guttering. You can then use this for watering your garden. You can also build “check dams” and “dry creeks” in your garden out of rock to encourage the water to pool and be soaked up by your plants.

Reducing evaporation can help to retain water in the soil for a longer amount of time and keep your plants alive with minimal watering. For drought-tolerant landscaping ideas to reduce evaporation off the soil surface, cover the soil with mulch or pebbles. Pathways made out of decomposed granite can help water to drain into the water table below, decreasing urban runoff and keeping our waterways clean.

4. Hire an Ecologically-Minded Landscaping Firm

If you want to make your Los Angeles garden attractive and environmentally responsible, but you are not sure where to start, we are here to help.

Simply tell us what you’re thinking about in terms of front and back yard garden areas, and we’ll take care of the drought-tolerant landscaping ideas for you!

To learn more about our landscaping and hardscaping services, you can take a look at the photos on our website and contact us to schedule a free landscaping consultation.

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