How to create a low-water garden

Trying to maintain a verdant garden can be difficult, especially in extended bouts of dry weather. The trick is to choose plants with low-water requirements for your space, without compromising on the aesthetics.

Bunnings magazine, January/February 2020

low water garden

Design details

A low-water garden can have a rich tapestry of colours and textures. For inspiration, Trystan Graham, co-director of Outdoor Establishments, suggests looking to the Australian bushland. “A warm palette of earthy colours and dry foliage can be a stunning addition to the garden,” he says.

Plus, it provides an excellent foundation to which you can add perennials to fill gaps and provide interest. “Succulents, such as agaves, flowering aloes and echeverias, provide sculptural forms and bursts of colour,” says Trystan.

Planning ahead

Take note of the sun, shade, wind and reflective heat in your space. This will help you understand your garden and how you can better plan and plant.

Group plants with similar water needs together; that way, if you do include a handful of thirsty plants, more water can be directed to that zone,” suggests Angie Thomas, horticulture consultant to Yates.

You don’t need to fill every inch of the garden bed with plants. Try including hard elements, such as boulders of local stone and gravel between plants. “It helps reduce the need for complete ground cover and helps punctuate beds and borders with visual intrigue,” says Trystan Graham. Plus, this planting style complements a naturalistic dry garden style very well.

Aussies love lawns, but they are thirsty. Consider reducing the size in favour of beds or borders with low-water ground covers. Create a Palm Springs vibe, with a patch of lawn flanked by a garden bed of cacti, mulched with white pebbles.

Right plant, right place

For a successful dry garden, always begin by choosing plants that have evolved to deal with hot, dry conditions. “Look for plants with silver, leathery, needle-like, hairy or waxy leaves,” suggests Angie.

Plants with these kinds of features tend to lose less moisture compared with large, lush-leaved plants. “Go for Australian natives such as wattles, banksias, bottlebrush, westringias, melaleucas and grasses, says Angie. Or, for a Mediterranean feel, lambs ears, rosemary, sage and perennial statice are ideal candidates. Once established, these plants can survive periods of low watering.

Succulents and cacti are ideal contenders, too, and they can often go through long periods with little to no water. However, they do require good drainage, so make sure you improve the soil prior to planting. “Cacti can withstand the hot afternoon sun perfect for the baking spots in the yard and can thrive on neglect, says Trystan. Most cacti also have incredible flowers that many people arent aware of. It often comes as a nice surprise!”

The secret is in the soil

The best time to plant is autumn or spring, as this gives plants enough time to get established before things really heat up. When planting, start by breaking up the soil well and mixing in compost and organic matter to encourage plants to root deeply. As a bonus, improving the soil can help boost its resilience in dry times. “Regularly incorporating rich sources of organic matter in the soil, such as Yates Dynamic Lifter, can help sandy and clay-based soils retain more moisture,” explains Angie.

After planting, Angie recommends applying a generous layer of mulch over garden beds, vegetable patches and pots. Adding a layer of mulch will help reduce the amount of moisture lost from the soil and, if using organic mulch like bark chips, they add valuable organic matter to the soil as they break down,” she says.

Make it count

To reduce water waste, install irrigation. “It’s best to install a drip system that regulates the release and delivers water directly to the plants’ rootballs,” says Trystan Graham.

This ensures plants receive a consistent amount of moisture, which allows for strong growth, flowering or fruiting. “Ensure you run irrigation at the right time of day – early morning or late in the evening – to minimise evaporation due to watering in the heat of the day,” he says. Check current water restrictions with your local authority.

Keep an eye on your soil though. If you notice water pooling on the surface, there is a good chance it has become hydrophobic (water repellent), so despite watering efforts, no water is reaching the plants’ roots. “Try applying a soil wetter, as it can help break down the waxy layer and enable moisture to penetrate more evenly and effectively down into the soil, helping plants to get the benefit of any rainfall or irrigation,” explains Angie Thomas.

Top tip

Plants local to your area are likely to establish well and require little TLC. Ask your council or search their website for a list of plants and trees that might work in your garden.

Try some of these dry stars

Agave (Agave sp.)

Agave boasts large, handsome succulent leaves arranged in an elegant rosette. Colours range from dusty-greyish green to yellow and green stripes. A tough statement piece for any garden.


Coastal rosemary (Westringia fruticosa)

With small needle-like leaves that grow into a tight, compact bush, coastal rosemary can withstand wind, sea spray, sun and dry soil. Trim it into a hedge or topiary ball, or let it grow naturally into a loose mound.


Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha)

Drought tolerant once established, Mexican sage is a true hot-weather performer. It provides pretty purple flowers and can tolerate full sun or light shade, and little water.


Indian hawthorn ‘Oriental Pearl’ (Rhaphiolepis indica)

A hardy shrub with white blooms, it can tolerate full sun, sea spray, wind and frost. It’s great in a pot or as a low-lying hedge.


Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos sp.)

This iconic Australian native has gorgeous bold-coloured blooms in varying shades of red, green, yellow or pink. Kangaroo paw grows best in a sunny dry spot.


Banksia ‘Birthday Candles’

Ideal for small spaces, its golden cylindrical flowers float above a sea of green foliage, growing into a low, dense shrub. Grow as ground cover or in pots.


Lamb’s ear (Stachysbyzantina)

Soft, fuzzy silver-grey leaves will add colour and contrast to a perennial garden bed. It will tolerate full sun and poor soils and grows best in hot, dry climates.


Emu bush (Eremophila nivea)

Emu bush has glistening silver foliage dotted with tubular purple flowers in spring and summer. Ideal for areas with hot, dry summers, such as Victoria and South Australia.


Lomandra ‘Tanika’

A staple in most dry gardens, with its strappy green leaves and compact growth habit (60cm tall and wide), it’s the perfect ornamental grass for borders, mass or feature plantings.


Arctotis ‘Silverdust Glow’

A hardy perennial that originates from South Africa, arctotis provides pops of orange blooms held above delicate silvery foliage. The flowers grow best in full sun.

low water garden

Start planning your low-water garden

Take a look at our full range of plants today and start creating your own low-water garden.


Photo credit: Gap Photos, Brent Wilson, Getty Images, iStock 

Cherry Plant

Planting & Growing How to plant and grow a cherry tree Sweet or sour, cherries are a popular summer treat around the world. Lovely and narrow, the cherry tree is suited to areas with cold winters, creating a stunning display of blossom in spring followed by the much-loved fruit.

plant pots 03:15

Planting & Growing How to grow and care for indoor plants For people unable to garden outdoors, growing indoor plants allows them to indulge in a hobby that gives great pleasure.

bird of paradise plant

Planting & Growing How to grow and prune a bird of paradise Hardy, easy to grow and architecturally dramatic with some of the most stunning and bizarre flowers you will ever see—that’s the awesome bird of paradise.

Apple Tree

Planting & Growing How to grow and prune an apple tree Nothing beats the crunch and taste of a fresh apple. So why not grow your own? An apple tree can be so much more than just a fruit tree.


Planting & Growing How to plant grow and harvest basil An attractive garden plant that’s easy to grow and is an essential ingredient in a multitude of dishes. That’s basil!


Planting & Growing How to plant grow and prune bougainvillea If you’re looking for a plant with vibrant colours to bring a tropical look to your garden, then you can’t go past bougainvillea.

How to design a herb garden 01:23

Planting & Growing How to design a herb garden Turn your back or front yard into a beautiful, productive space by creating an edible garden that looks good and will tastes even better. For this project, we’re grouping our herbs into three pots – one for tea, one for smoothies and one for cocktai...

Choose a sunny spot and watch 01:40

Planting & Growing How to grow strawberries You’ll love the taste of home-grown strawberries. It’s a great activity the whole family will have fun doing.

pool with moroccan tiles

Planning & Projects Transform your backyard with a new garden bed Well-planned garden beds can give your backyard both structure and beauty, and solve all sorts of tricky problems, from screening out your neighbours to disguising an ugly fence. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

planting an edible garden

Planning & Projects How to build a child-friendly edible garden Creating a child-friendly edible garden is an enjoyable way to get grubby with the kids as well as engaging them with the great outdoors

Garden Tool Storage 01:52

Planning & Projects D.I.Y. garden tool storage rack Garden tools can be tricky to store away neatly because of their size and shape. Find out how to create a garden tool storage rack with this guide from Bunnings.

various artificial plants

Planning & Projects Create an instant artificial garden Get an instant, hassle-free designer garden with Un-Real Artificial plants. Find out here how you can create a beautiful and instant private garden.

Renovation Basics - Garden 03:28

Planning & Projects How to plan and landscape a garden makeover If you’re thinking about creating a new garden, you can save a lot by doing the project yourself.

Plant growing from coin jar

Planning & Projects Nine plants for good luck around the home The Lunar New Year is a significant part of most Asian cultures. There are many customs and rituals that are celebrated at this time. As part of the customs, there are some plants traditionally associated with the Lunar New Year festival and thought...

Plan out the garden 01:50

Planning & Projects How to create a cottage garden A cottage garden full of flowers and colour brightens every home. This video will help you build one that suits your tastes and needs.

front yard raised timber garden bed 01:04

Planning & Projects How to give your front garden a D.I.Y. makeover With some simple D.I.Y. skills, you can transform your front yard into something special that will improve your home’s street appeal.

Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.
Top of the content