Droughts can be devastating, but no one feels the effects more than farmers and gardeners. Coupled with hot temperatures, a drought can make growing conditions less than hospitable. Crops need water to grow, and so does your own backyard garden. Unfortunately, there can be times during a drought when people are ordered or encouraged to conserve water, which can make maintaining a garden tricky! However, there are things you can do to keep things growing when there’s not much water.
First, know what kind of soil you have in your garden. Some soil types will need watering more often than others so make sure you select a hearty soil that can withstand long periods without rain. In some areas, soil is naturally more hardy due to the year round hot climate. Know the qualities of soil in your area by talking to the department of agriculture or consulting with local farmers that have more experience with gardening.
Second, choose your plants carefully. Plants that are drought resistant are going to withstand the heat with little water better than those that aren’t. If you have container gardens with purchased soil, contact your local nursery for advice on water retention for your soil type. If you live in an area that is prone to water shortage, plant as early in the season as possible, preferably before the temperatures start to climb. This will give you a head start on growing season and may help plants get past the delicate seedling stage before local droughts cause damage.
If you anticipate a water shortage in your area, plant in smaller amounts, or choose plants with a shorter growing season, both of which will require less water. Some experts also recommend using container gardens over in ground gardening if possible, as it means less water waste, since only small areas need to be watered each time. If you do plant in ground, try grouping your plants according to how much they need to be watered and how much sun they need. Planting in groups can also provide shade for plant roots, a definite plus if you need to conserve water. Another point to consider is just planting enough for your family – if you over planted in past years, think about planting a little less in the future, so you won’t have as much to water.
Consider using mulch around your plants. Mulch is great at aiding in water retention, so even a 3-inch layer around the base of your plants can help. Another bonus to using mulch is that it can cut down on weed growth, and weeds will compete with your garden plants for water. You can use pulled weeds or clipped grass as mulch for your garden too. Consider reducing the use of fertilizers during a drought since they make plants grow larger, requiring more water. You will also want to pick produce as soon as it’s ready. Leaving it on the bush, branch, or stalk longer than necessary will pull precious water from the rest of the growing plant.
When watering, try not to over water your plants. Not only is it not good for the plants, it can waste water, which is something you don’t want to do in a drought. This is a common mistake that many people make when caring for their gardens. If you can recognize when a plant needs water (yellowing or wilting of the leaves, scorched edges), then you can water them more efficiently. If your soil feels dry, it most likely needs water, but if it feels moist to the touch, it is probably okay. It’s always best to water a garden in the evening or early morning hours. In many cases, plants will thrive when watered deeply, but infrequently. Watering deeply means saturating the soil right around the plants to allow maximum water absorption by the roots. This way you won’t have to water as often.
Using a rain barrel or other water storage container is a great backup plan for times when you must conserve water. Save water in gallon jugs for hydrating container gardens. You can also use bathwater to water your garden, or water from the washing machine or kitchen sink. Common detergents or soaps used around the house shouldn’t hurt your plants, so the water will most likely be okay to use as a water source.
Gardening in a drought or time of water shortage can take a little more advance planning and care, but it can be done. It is something that all gardeners will probably deal with at one time or another, so planning and knowing how to best conserve water ahead of time will lessen the stress of the situation so you can keep your plants thriving and healthy.
What are your favorite methods for gardening during a water shortage?