I’m conserving water this year is by planting drought tolerant herbs and succulents in many of my full-sun planting beds. Unlike traditional bedding plants that require daily watering during the summer months, succulents and drought tolerant herbs can thrive with one deep watering every one to two weeks.
One planting bed I’ve been struggling with for years is a triangular shaped bed bounded by our house’s foundation on two sides and a sidewalk on the third. During the summer, the temps in this spot reach a staggering 120 degrees which is too hot for most plants to handle. I recently converted this bed into a small, river bed rock garden featuring a wide range of hot weather herbs and desert succulents. The plot not only is interesting to look at, it’s super low maintenance as well. Here is how it was done.
Kill the vegetation in the bed first
Before beginning this project, I lifted all my old perennials from the bed and relocated them elsewhere in the yard. Stray weeds and grass were then pulled out by hand and the soil sifted to remove the roots. If this is too time consuming for you, another option is to spray the entire bed with an all purpose herbicide such as Round-up. The vegetation will die back in a couple of weeks and then can be raked out before proceeding.
To create my river bed rock garden, I collected several wheel barrow loads of river rock from my yard. If you aren’t lucky enough to live on an old river bed like I do, check with the Forest Service to see if they offer rock collecting permits for do-it-yourselfers. You can also order a couple of yards of clean river rock from a local quarry or even ask around for free rocks on a site like Freecycle.com. Other supplies include sand, potting mix or top soil, landscape cloth, an assortment of terra cotta pots, and drought tolerant herbs and succulents.
Building the rock garden
There are several ways to create a river bed rock garden. The more traditional way of making a river bed is to create a long, shallow depression in the soil, line with landscape cloth, top with two inches of sand, arrange the rocks to form a bed, and then fill in the gaps around the rocks with even more sand. Since the soil in my garden plot bed has a sandy texture already, I omit the sand and partially bury the rocks into the soil instead leaving spaces for terra cotta pots and plants.
Arranging the plants
Once the rocks are in place, it’s just a matter of planting the herbs and succulents where you’d like. Since we’re painting the south part of our house this year, I planted most of herbs and succulents in terra cotta pots that my husband can move as needed. Plants going into the ground were tucked in gaps that I had left between some of the rocks. I finished up the bed with solar lights tucked along the edge of the river bed.
So what kind of drought tolerant plants work well in a river bed rock garden? There is no easy answer for this since it all depends on soil conditions, the amount of sunlight, humidity, and summer temperatures. Succulents of all types (both annual and perennials) tend to be great choices for rock gardens. As far as drought tolerant herbs, I’ve discovered that oregano, thyme, borage, lavender, sage, and savory can handle low water conditions and summer temps as high as 120 degrees making them excellent options for planting along a river bed rock garden as well.
More by this contributor:
How to make a container rock garden
How to keep container vegetables hydrated during a long hot summer
Nine tips for veggie gardening in a semi arid, high desert climate