Gardening in a Drought

Last year, the United States suffered one of the largest droughts in its history. More than 50 percent of the nation was declared in drought conditions. In fact, nearly 1,000 counties and 28 states were in a drought last year.

With drought conditions, it’s important to know how you can protect your home garden. This will help you have fresh, healthy produce no matter the season.

Here are a few points to consider when trying to conserve water in your home garden.

drought gardeningSpace them Out
For flowers and vegetables, use wider spacing to reduce competition for soil moisture. You can also place mulch in between and on top of the soil to prevent water from evaporating out of the soil as quickly. Since the mulch is thicker, the water will stay trapped.

Layer on the Top
Placing a layer on the top to trap in the moisture is a great way to conserve water. Many families water the garden in the early morning or late at night and spread the lawn mowing clippings over the top of the soil to trap in that water as long as possible.

A drought means less water but can also means higher heats. In order to protect their plants, many gardeners will create a shaded area for their garden to protect them from the extreme heat throughout the day. You can do this by building a netted canopy over your more tender plants which allows some light in. Many shading canopies are also built to be adjustable so that they can move to the side for setting suns on the horizon. The shading also helps water stay in the area instead of evaporating as easily.

Raised Gardening Beds
Raised beds made of concrete are a great way to retain moisture in the soil when you’re gardening. In many water-deprived areas, they use large troughs to plant all of their garden vegetables and fruits.

Less Fertilizer
Be sure to cut down on how much fertilizer you use and how often you use it. High-nitrogen fertilizer is great for quick growth but also requires more water for lawns and other plants. By using organic fertilizers, they deposit less nitrogen into the soil and improve soil humus - which helps hold water for longer amounts of time.

Pruning takes a lot of effort for the plant to heal. Pruning can also cause side shoots and more growth, and thus require more water. Avoid pruning as much as you can. While your bushes and trees might look a little shabby, that’s better than having to replace a whole plant the next year because they didn’t survive the drought.

Weeds and Hoeing
I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but making sure that you weed your soil as much as possible. Weeds are competing for soil moisture and you can’t afford for your plants to miss out on any water that might be there. It’s also recommended that you avoid using a hoe on the soil. Disturbing the soil surface will result in drying out much faster.

Organic Material
Add organic materials like fruit scraps to the soil, they will add nutrients along with moisture. Composted materials will also add nutrients and are a great way to retain moisture. A popular practice is to use peat moss in gardens. While the peat moss lasts a lot longer in the soil, it doesn’t add as many nutrients and can acidify the soil.

Your Advice
So, what do you do when water is tight? Comment below to tell us what you think about gardening in a drought. Spread your knowledge and advice to others.

20 thoughts on “Gardening in a Drought”

  • Scott

    Peat moss is NOT sustainably harvested and is a terrible choice for out doors gardens! Use ground coconut shells instead, rinse thoroughly until salt free. Retains moisture and adds air pockets for excellent root growth, bio-degrades slowly enriching soil. Harvest & save rainwater for your garden, whether drought or not!

  • Brigitte

    We use potting soil with moisture crystals for pots watering in heavy once a week, by going through all of them and fillling with the hose, then turn around and going to each one a second time and flooding to the top while it absorbs into the soil. This gives plenty of water for the plant to absorb all the water it needs to restore itself, plus to hydrate the soil and gel crystals as well.
    By placing pots strategically in places on porch and behind other planters for shade or behind a taller sun loving plant that can take more sun, protecting more sensitive plants to the rear. We have done this for years in hear of even 116 degrees.
    Cleaning out whatever is left of any annuals for the compost, trimming, pruning etc as necessary.
    Every couple of years, we will rotate soil, transplant and move to bigger pots adding bags of new moisture soil tossing some of the potted soil in a different plant bed that is in front of that porch area that is surrounded by concrete and decorative rocks which is also a more contained area

  • Wendy

    We discovered that newspaper acted as the best mulch in our large garden in upstate New York. Plus it was free! It conserved soil moisture and cut down on weed growth. Grass clippings, we found, only served to perpetuate weeds.
    My mother always saved egg shells and coffee grinds to add to her garden soil.

  • Pat

    During extreme drought in TX two years ago we washed and rinsed our dishes in a basin and emptied the used water into the vegetable beds.

  • Polly

    Use gray water and rain barrels.

  • Reid

    In states where cotton is grown rotten cotton hulls from the gins makes good mulch

  • Bruce

    I second Scott's comment about coconut husks. They're easy to work with, and good all around for the environment.

  • Karen

    Where do you get coconut husks?

  • Lauralee Hensley
    Lauralee Hensley May 9, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Doing the large troughs, and will probably be getting the shade netting this year or loose weeve cotton gauze type fabric at a fabric store to drap like a tent with wood posts over and above the plants, but want to leave some opening to allow bees in and out for pollination purposes. We have a little hive on our shed and the bees seemed friendly last year, so hoping for that again this year. Will probably use dish water if needed and water early in the day before the water restriction limitations are in play. We can only water certain hours of the day due to the drought, but we can water daily, unlike one town away from us where they can only water two days a week and only during certain hours and for no more than I think it is two hours. They are going to dry up and blow away with that severe of restrictions, but they are a much, much larger community so more land mass to water than here where I live.

  • Deep South Survial
    Deep South Survial June 3, 2013 at 1:53 am

    On a different note u can mix manure with those cotton husk and u have a great organic fertilizer.

  • Matt

    I use a thick layer of straw to retain garden moisture, at the end of the season it get burned or tilled into the soil.

  • Ray

    Here in Las Vegas where its going to be 117 today I use silver mulch. This shiny mylar type mulch has the added benefit of reflecting light to the underside of leaves which confuses the insect pests that normally hide on the darker, shadier underside. Squash bugs that feasted on my melons last year are no problem this year.

  • Ruth

    Here in South Texas, we go one step further than using the dish water and stopper the tub for showers. The teens then get to tote water out to the plants. Adds the benefit of them taking shorter showers so as to tote less.

  • Roger G

    I use a misting system that you can get at a home improvement store as a kit or "build your own" parts. Built with PVC pipe it is not very expensive.
    During the day it will help cool the plants and provide a small amount of water.
    Along with mulch and shade it works well.
    Each nozzle only uses 1/2 gal of water an hour so it is not going to run your water bill up very much

  • susan

    Think again about using cotton husks! Cotton is one of the largest crop users of pesticides and a lot remain on the husks. Even if composted properly, the pesticides then leach into your soil. It's just not a good choice, organicgarden or otherwise.

  • Greer

    Two things to try:
    1. For watering trees, we are installing white plastic piping around the drip line, lengths pipe depend on the size of the tree. Then we hand water the ground under the trees (which is mulched) and pour water down the pipes to reach the roots.
    2. We are using local area drip lines, during the midnight to 4-5 am at ten minutes each area. Then late in the day we refresh by a hand watering with a sprinkler bucket.
    All of our watering is done 2-3 times a week either early in the day or during the shady evenings. This keeps the water from boiling the skins off the plants.

  • bon

    If you're serious about drought-proofing your garden, look up hugelkulture. It works remarkably well.

    Certain earthworks used in permaculture techniques are highly recommended. Swales and berms, hugelkulture berms and swales.

    These are "no" irrigation methods and they do work.

  • Kathleen

    We often have dry summers in S.D. I save all my empty milk jugs and large fruit jugs. Just cut the bottom off or make a hole in the bottom large enough to pour water into them. Drill a few small holes in the caps and put back on jugs. Then dig a hole between your plants or before planting, leaving enough room for root growth. Place the jug cap end down into the hole. Now fill in around the jug with the soil you just dug out. The last step is to fill the jugs with water and refill as necessary. (Note: The holes need to be small to allow for a slow drip into the soil.)

  • Marcia

    Look at the film Back to Eden (free online), or short videos on same gardening technique on youtube - search L2Survive. Amazing and easy technique! Works great immediately for fruit trees and berry bushes, takes a little longer to get a good vegetable garden.

  • fauna

    one time we filled our garden with mulch from cotton plants....a lovely desert thunderstorm followed our seeding 3 days the pumpkins planted from seed were 3 inches tall! Sorry to say it was not organic - but there are some organic cotton farmers out there - if you can find them!

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