Property Management Tips: Drought Tolerant Landscaping for Apartment Properties


Drought Tolerant Plant
Image Source: Tim Blackwell


While there has been some relief with spring rains, widespread drought continues to plague much of the U.S., which means property managers may want to reach a little deeper into their wheelbarrows for landscape options this year that don’t require as much moisture.

Drought is expected to persist or intensify in most of the southern half of the U.S. in 2012, according to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, with the most severe impact on the southern Eastern seaboard and Southwest. Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina are gripped in Exceptional or Extreme droughts and little relief is in sight.

Landscapers across the Southwest are getting more and more calls from concerned property owners about their water-starved landscapes. But lack of rainfall, depleted reservoirs and water restrictions don’t mean that property beds and gardens should become sand boxes. Many varieties of drought tolerant plants and grasses offer pleasing solutions that have sustainability.

Beautiful variations of contrasting colors of rock and fairly sparse plantings can evoke the effect of a healthy landscape that’s soft on the eyes. Done right, a property can have a beautiful and long-term landscape that will go easy on the water bill.

When considering a drought tolerant landscape, just look around. See what is growing on its own in nature without man-made irrigation or supplementation. What you see in the wild, on the side of the road or open areas are surviving with the cards that Mother Nature deals.

Species vary from region to region, depending on climate, and some are not so attractive. But there are many, many desirable plants, trees, bushes and grasses that when placed in a similar environment to their natural setting will react as they do in nature and give property owners a low-maintenance option during periods of limited rain and water supply.

Here are some property management tips to help beat the drought.

Get it Established

As with any plant life, the key to long-term growth is establishment. Don’t discount that any kind of landscaping, whether it’s drought tolerant or not, needs time to take root and needs water up front. And no matter how drought tolerant it is, the plant will have some issues with transplant shock and sensitivity to its new surroundings.

Adequate watering for the first couple of months after the planting is necessary, as well as keeping a close eye on progress. The plant will tell you what it needs if you pay attention. Once drought tolerant landscaping is established it should be able to survive on natural rainfall and environment.

Types of Drought Tolerant Plant Life

Each part of the country has its own tolerances and properties should consult area horticulturalists or landscape professionals for the right choices. Again, take note of what’s growing around the area that doesn’t require much intervention from mankind.

In Texas and the Southwest, for example, red bud trees, sages and any kind of succulent – like yuccas and agaves – do well. Some varieties of Crape Myrtles also do really well. In Florida, Cuban Buttercups, Devil’s Backbone and the Jelly Burn Plant are drought tolerant perennials. Black Chokeberry, Golden Alexanders and Roundleaf Dogwoods grow well in Michigan in dyer soils.

A number of ornamental and maiden grasses are fairly drought tolerant and are sustainable. Muhly grass, known as Muhlenbergia capillaries, is a common ornamental grass that adds vibrant color to a property but can survive with limited moisture. The grass has beautiful pinkish and redish blooms instead of white blooms, which are common on most other grasses.

Rock On

A lot of the drought tolerant landscapes will incorporate rock and boulders as ornaments. Of course, they have zero water requirements. Something that is making a comeback is Lava Rock, which was popular in the 1970s and 80s, as evidence by recent requests.

Natural rocks come in a variety of colors and can add a distinctive presence to a property’s landscaping. They are inexpensive (and don’t require irrigation) and make great center pieces. Most stone specialists have ample supply of rocks from the region, as well as other types of stones that can add an always manicured look to any landscape.

Rather than surrounding a Red-Tip Photinia with Monkey Grass, consider stylishly situating a large rock indigenous to the region amid Muhly grass.

Turf Alternatives

Decomposed granite is a great alternative to turf because it can be compacted to the point where it’s easy to walk on and it’s easy for pets to run on. Decomposed granite is small, weathered chunks of granite that takes on the effect of gravel or course sand.

Most common uses are for driveways, garden walkways and heavy-use paths. It compacts well and comes in a variety of colors.

Deciding on a drought tolerant landscape can involve a little strategy, but for the most part Mother Nature has already put a plan in place nearby. Even in the most severe drought conditions, there is an alternative to create and maintain an attractive, well-groomed landscape.


President, Earthworks

author photo two

Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

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