5 Things You Should Do If You Want Your Garden To Survive A Drought

Tips and tricks to keep your garden looking vibrant, even in dry and dusty environments.

November 22, 2017
garden in drought

Drought and heat go hand-in-hand, and long periods can be lethal to your garden. When summers spike to 90 degrees and higher, water evaporates rapidly from the ground and air; dehydrating your plants. A hot summer with little rain can quickly dry up reservoirs, leading to drought and enforced water restrictions, leaving gardeners with the challenge of keeping their plants properly hydrated.

(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

But don’t lose hope just yet if you live in a dry and dusty environment. We’ve got a handful of efficient watering tips and tricks that can help you keep your garden looking vibrant.

Related: How To Make Your Garden Drought-Proof

peppers are drought resistant
Choose drought-resistant vegetables

If water is scarce and heat is overwhelming, the first thing to do is to choose the right plants. There are certain garden vegetables that can handle extreme heat and can go lengths of time without water. Bell peppers, asparagus, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, eggplant, cucumbers, and okra, are all hardy plants that can withstand hot temperatures—and even prefer them.  

square-foot gardening
Image by Sherry Galey/Getty
Try square-foot gardening

Instead of planting in traditional rows, the square-foot gardening method uses a grid to group plants. A raised bed is divided into 1-foot-by-1-foot squares, each home to a different veggie variety. Since there is no space or paths separating the plants, there is no wasted space. Keeping plants so close together prevents water from easily evaporating and diminishes weeds, which could be soaking up the water that your baby peppers need.

This tutorial shows you how to build the easiest raised bed design there is:

grid irrigation
Photograph courtesy of Brian Traficante
Set up a grid irrigation system

One major downside to square-foot gardening is that the soil in raised beds tends to dry out a bit quicker than if you were planting directly in the ground. However, you can easily combat this problem by installing an efficient grid irrigation system.

Amateur gardeners may think that soaking their plants is the best way to water, but those droplets hanging on leaves magnify the sun’s rays and hurt the plant more than help it. Water hanging on the leaves will most likely be evaporated before it hits the ground where it can feed the roots, so it really isn’t an optimum method, especially in a hot drought.

Related: How To Have A Vibrant Garden Without Using Lots Of Water

Unlike sprinklers that blast water indiscriminately, a grid system puts water right where it needs to go, soaking the roots of the plants. And because the square-foot naturally creates dense vegetation, the water is protected from evaporation. 

Add lots of compost

Filling your garden beds with lots of organic matter that adds nutrients and stores water is one of the smartest things any gardener can do, but it’s even more important during a drought. Adding compost to your garden beds in spring and fall can help build good soil structure and replenish nutrients. It encourages the formation of soil clusters that soak up water and hold it like a sponge, upping your plants’ survival rates during heatwaves. (Compost not turning out the way you planned? Here are seven solutions for your most common compost problems.)

hay mulch
Pile on the mulch

Mulching is an invaluable strategy for water conservation. Roughly eight inches of mulch (hay or decomposed leaves, not wood chips) throughout your garden will settle and help keep moisture and coolness within the ground, and insulate against the scorching sun. (Eight inches seems high, but the mulch will settle.)

Additionally, weeds will find it harder to grow and steal nutrients from your garden’s plants when there is a thick layer of mulch. (Not sure which mulch to get? Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the right mulch.)

Bryan Traficante is a gardener and co-founder of GardenInMinutes, a gardening company focused on reducing the time and effort normally associated with starting a garden. They make innovative modular raised garden beds with built-in watering systems and provide time-saving gardening tips and practical growing advice on their website. Additional reporting by Wiley Geren.