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Do Drought-Tolerant and Native Plants NEED Irrigation?

When it comes to landscaping in our ecoregion, the allure of drought-tolerant and native plants is undeniable. With their promise of reduced water usage and resilience in the face of dry conditions, it's easy to see why many homeowners in Spokane are drawn to these hardy varieties. However, there's a common misconception that once these plants are in the ground, they can immediately fend for themselves without any help from us. This belief, while optimistic, doesn't paint the whole picture, especially during the critical establishment phase. This article will work to guide you through the intricacies of irrigation for drought-tolerant plants to ensure your hard work to landscape your yard with plants suitable to the environment pays off.


Drought-tolerant doesn't mean drought-proof. This distinction is crucial for Spokane homeowners who wish to cultivate a resilient and vibrant landscape. While these plants are indeed designed by evolution in nature to withstand periods of low moisture, they still require regular watering schedules to become established.

Almost all landscaping installations are "quick-started" by the use of transplanted nursery plants, who have not had the opportunity to develop deep root systems from germination, instead being confined in nursery pots. Landscapers often remove nursery pots and find plants (especially native plants) to be rootbound and wanting room to grow. The root systems of these newly planted flora need time and consistent moisture levels to stretch deep into the soil, anchoring themselves and tapping into the earth's natural water reserves.

A yard installed by Dryland Revival in North Spokane, showcasing plants grown in.

The initial investment in irrigation pays off by developing plants that are truly drought-tolerant once they have reached a size where their roots can stretch to find water deep in the ground. Most of the time, this establishment period lasts about 3 years, with the first year requiring the most water, and needs tapering off as seasons progress. These needs can change depending on the individual weather patterns of the season (i.e. if one summer is significantly hotter than another or a super dry April-June stretch)


During the summer months in Spokane, establishing an optimal irrigation schedule is crucial for the successful growth of drought-tolerant and native plants. For newly planted installations, it's recommended to water deeply but less frequently (60-90 minutes = deeply), ensuring that moisture penetrates down to the root zone where it is most needed. Ideally, drip irrigation systems should run early in the morning to reduce water loss due to evaporation and to allow plants to absorb moisture before the heat of the day.

(If the 60-90 minute timeframe seems like a long time, it's because our typical frame of reference is from traditional spray nozzle irrigation systems. These nozzles measure their output in GPM or gallons per minute, whereas drip irrigation emitters measure theirs in GPH, or gallons per hour. This distinction should give you a good frame of reference of how different the water outputs are for drip systems vs. traditional spray systems.)

Because of the consistency in irrigation necessary for establishing plants, we highly recommend installing an irrigation timer, backflow prevention and permanent valve boxes in the ground. This insures the investment made on your new plants and will make for a thriving yard with less maintenance work from the homeowner. The other option is an "off the spigot" setup, which can work equally well but typically has more limitations including limited numbers of irrigation zones, troubles with winter freezes and battery-powered timers running out of juice.

Newly installed Valve Boxes, Backflow Preventer, and Irrigation Controller at a Dryland Revival Project in Glenrose.

In the first year, aim to water about three times per week, adjusting based on rainfall and specific plant needs. We recommend following the WaterWise Spokane Watering guidelines, which can be found at this link. As plants become more established, usually in the second and third years, you can gradually reduce the frequency to twice a week and eventually to once a week, always monitoring soil moisture levels and plant health. By following this schedule, you help plants develop deeper root systems, making them more resilient to drought and reducing overall water usage in the long term.


The tag on a plant at your local nursery might suggest minimal water requirements, but this typically refers to the plant's needs once fully established in its final growing place. Initially, consistent watering is critical to survival and growth. Without it, even the hardiest of plants can succumb to the stress of transplantation and the dry Spokane climate. It's a delicate balance—providing enough water to support growth, yet not so much that we negate the drought-tolerant benefits. Understanding this balance is key to a thriving garden.

Common Yarrow planted amongst other drought tolerant plants on the South Hill.


At Dryland Revival, we specialize in regenerative landscaping solutions that are tailored to the unique needs of each yard and its plant inhabitants. Recognizing the specific irrigation needs of drought-tolerant plants, especially in their formative stages, we design and install irrigation systems that ensure your landscape not only survives but flourishes.

Newly installed drip irrigation tubing at a Dryland Revival Project on the South Hill.

Most irrigation installations we do focus on drip irrigation, a network of tubing that delivers water to the soil surface without spray nozzles. Drip irrigation emitters are designed to supply water directly to the root zone, reducing waste and ensuring that each plant receives the hydration it needs to thrive. Additionally, drip irrigation minimizes the amount of water contact with low canopy leaves, lessening the chances of disease and pest problems long term associated with mold and mildew.

We believe in the resilience of drought-tolerant plants while acknowledging their needs. Our systems are designed to be efficient, scalable, and most importantly, sustainable, aligning with the ethos of regenerative landscaping.


A Rain Barrel - Stock Photo.

To further minimize the impact of water usage while ensuring that drought-tolerant and native plants receive the hydration they need, integrating rainwater harvesting systems can be a game-changer. Rainwater harvesting involves collecting and storing rainwater from rooftops, which can then be used to irrigate your landscape. By capturing and utilizing this natural resource, homeowners can significantly reduce their dependence on municipal water supplies and stormwater infrastructure. This not only conserves water from our aquifer but also lowers water bills and helps mitigate the effects of drought. Implementing rain barrels or more extensive cistern systems allows you to make the most of Spokane's seasonal rains, adding to an already sustainable and eco-friendly irrigation solution.

Another effective strategy to enhance irrigation efficiency is the use of mulch. Mulching around your plants serves multiple purposes: it helps retain soil moisture, suppresses weeds, and improves soil health as it decomposes. By creating a protective barrier over the soil, mulch reduces evaporation, ensuring that more water reaches the plant roots rather than being lost to the atmosphere. Organic mulches like wood chips, straw, or compost are particularly beneficial as they enrich the soil over time.

Newly installed Mulch at a Dryland Revival Project in the West Hills.

When installing organic mulch and an irrigation in conjunction with each other is a great combination. When integrating the two, we install bury-rated irrigation tubing 2-3 inches underneath the mulch, to ensure subsurface water infiltration. Combining mulch with drip irrigation maximizes water usage, as the mulch keeps the soil underneath it consistently moist, reducing the need for frequent watering. This synergistic approach not only conserves water but also fosters a healthier, more resilient landscape.


Choosing Dryland Revival means opting for a partner who understands the nuances of Spokane's climate and the specific requirements of drought-tolerant plants. Our expertise lies in creating landscapes that are not only beautiful but sustainable and resilient. We're here to guide you through the process of establishing a drought-resistant garden that reflects your commitment to environmental stewardship and conservation.

While drought-tolerant plants are an excellent choice for Spokane landscapes, their success hinges on the initial care and irrigation they receive. We're dedicated to ensuring that your garden is set up for success from the very beginning, with irrigation solutions that are as efficient as they are effective. Let us help you create a landscape that is both beautiful and bountiful, proving that with the right care, even the driest of climates can host a thriving garden.


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