Drought conditions can be discouraging, but just like in the kitchen when an ingredient is scarce, there are things you can do to adjust the recipe and still have something to enjoy.
Obviously in a drought, water is the ingredient of concern. Here are some ideas for adjustments to make with the other primary ingredients of a plant growing recipe for a drought or when water is scarce.
This is a key component to a drought tolerant garden. Adding lots of rich, organic compost will trap moisture and encourage deep roots. Look for amendments that contain soil retention contents. Avoid fertilizing during drought as fertilizer requires lots of watering to work.
Along with adjusting your soil, be sure to mulch. Placing a thick layer of mulch on top of your now-drought-tolerant-soil will ensure the water does not run off or evaporate, as well as minimize weed growth which competes for water. Grass clippings make great mulch for vegetables. Bark and wood chips are not the ideal choice because they deplete nitrogen. Use organic mulch and, depending on the size of the material, plant to a generous depth. Timing is important, too, and mulching early in the summer is optimal.
There are several different things to try in this element of your growth recipe. Block Planting (instead of rows) helps create micro-climates, increase shade and thus reduce evaporation. Group Plants with similar water requirements (like cucumbers, zucchini and squash). Select Plants with Larger Harvest and focus on growing things that produce more “bang for your buck” like tomatoes, squash and peppers. Grow Fewer Plants and focus on doing well with less. Plant Small, or mini varieties of plants that require less water than their larger counterparts. Consider Companion Planting, a technique that maximizes qualities of different plants for mutual benefit. Plant Early so the root system gets well established before the hot, dry days set in. Raised Beds can offer an ideal situation for controlling all the elements and optimizing growing conditions for drought.
Toss the sprinklers during drought and invest in a soaker hose or drip irrigation. Watering slowly and deeply is important during a drought, and best done at the base of the plants. Be sure to place soaker hoses under mulch. Using a timer can be beneficial as well for managing water conservation. Only water when the soil needs it – check that by squeezing some soil in your hand and if it sticks together don’t water yet. Water in the morning when temperatures are still cool.
Become a student of what you grow and know the stages of development and their optimal watering needs; you may be surprised to find you have been over-watering. Flowering and fruiting stages are most important for a number of vegetables.
Collect water in rain buckets or even inside the house. Make sure to use containers that are not absorbent, plastic or ceramic are best.
Choose Drought-Tolerant Plants.
Some grass and landscape plants go dormant when they don’t get enough water (allowing grass to grow taller in lawns is beneficial), but vegetables must have water in order to produce. There are plants and varieties that can do very well in drought conditions. Consider crops from dry land. Beans demand the most water, so plant something else. Look for varieties that have short days to maturity as an option. Some vegetables known to do well with low water requirements include rhubarb, legumes like chickpeas, okra and pineapple tomatoes.
Consider creating shade to minimize how much direct sun your plants receive. This can be done with strategic planting or by constructing creative shade covers yourself.
Don’t be discouraged in your garden when the weather turns hot and dry. Give some of these suggestions a try, play with your growing recipes and see what success you can have creating a drought-tolerant garden.