You may have read or seen on the news that we are transitioning into an El Niño weather pattern in North America. You may also have heard that El Niño can bring warmer weather and drought to some areas, particularly the West Coast. We’ve had a 3-year run of La Niña patterns that were some of the warmest in history. El Niño typically brings even warmer weather patterns, so now is the time to consider drought-resistant planting in your vegetable garden.
Tips for Drought Resistant Planting
Prepare Your Soil
The foundation of any healthy garden is having the proper soil. To maximize the benefits of watering, you’ll want soil that contains plenty of organic matter (compost) so that it will drain slower. On top of that soil, you should have 2-4 inches of mulch to prevent evaporation and help that soil retain moisture. Straw, pine needles, arborist wood chips, grass clippings, and wood bark are good mulch options.
During drought conditions, your water will go further if you plant your garden directly in the ground as opposed to raised beds as water typically evaporates quicker from raised beds.
PlantingTake advantage of companion planting practices when creating a drought-tolerant garden. Plant vegetables closer together to shade the soil. Use low-growing vining plants to serve as ground cover to help retain moisture near taller plants. Plant vegetables with similar water requirements near each other so you don’t waste water on plants that don’t need as much.
Probably the most important aspect of gardening during drought conditions is watering. It is better to water deeply and less often than to water less but more frequently. The time of day that you water is also important. Ideally, you should water first thing in the morning because water will tend to evaporate in the heat of the mid-day. If you can’t water in the morning, the evening when the sun is going down is also a good time.
A water reclamation system is a benefit to any garden. A rain barrel to gather water when there is rain can be a real boon during drought conditions. Keep in mind that water gathered from catchment systems under asphalt roofs is only safe for plants that you won’t be eating, however recovering water falling from metal roofs is fine for your vegetables. You might also consider saving grey water from your bathtub or sink, just make sure you’re using non-toxic soaps. Laundry water with softener is not safe for watering plants.
Watering with drip irrigation is far more efficient than sprinklers or a hose, as it will deliver water right to the soil near the plant roots rather than wasting water and possibly damaging the leaves of your vegetables. You don’t need a fancy system. You can create your own drip irrigation hose from an old vinyl hose that already might be leaking, just poke holes about every 3 inches along the hose. A quarter-inch drill bit makes this easy and quick.
A tool that has been used for centuries in more arid agricultural areas for watering is ollas (pronounced oy-yas) also known as clay pot irrigation. Ollas are unglazed terra cotta pots used by Native Americans to water their crops. They are typically bulbous vessels with narrow necks that are buried in the soil near plants and filled with water. As the soil surrounding the olla dries, it pulls water through the terra cotta into the soil. You can make your own olla with simple terra cotta pots by sealing the hole in the bottom, burying them in your garden, and covering them with a terra cotta pot saucer.
Choosing PlantsThe final pieces to your drought-resistant garden are the plants. You’ll want to choose varieties that love the heat and aren’t finicky about water. In general, you want to plant quick-growing varieties with deep root systems.
Some drought-tolerant vegetables you can grow include:
- Swiss Chard - Swiss chard is a great hot-climate vegetable and will thrive with very little attention. Kale and Mustard Greens also do well in low-water conditions.
- Beans - Most varieties of beans, both pole beans and bush beans are drought tolerant and are great for a survival garden due to their high productivity and nutritional value.
- Eggplant - Eggplants need lots of warm days to produce and do well in the heat. They are low in calories and high in nutritional value.
- Melons - Believe it or not melons like watermelon and cantaloupe are quite drought tolerant and are a great addition to bring some sweetness to your survival garden.
- Peppers - Peppers love the heat and require less water than other plants. They are also excellent sources of Vitamins A & C.
- Tomatoes - Tomatoes are another warm-weather crop that is drought tolerant.
Most herbs are also excellent for drought-resistant planting. Mediterranean herbs like lavender, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and sage are all well adapted to dry hot climates and work perfectly in your drought-tolerant garden.
We’ve created a seed collection specifically for drought-resistant vegetable gardens. The selection includes known drought-tolerant varieties, but other varieties of the same type of plants can work in a low-water situation.
Growing a bountiful vegetable garden even during hot, dry conditions is possible. By taking advantage of the natural properties of your plants and a few extra steps to help your soil spread and retain moisture, you can eat well, no matter the weather.