Gardening in a Drought

By Susan Littlefield

Much of the country has suffered in the throes of record –breaking heat and drought or abnormally dry conditions this summer. Keeping a garden thriving when the mercury rises and the rains don't come can be a challenge, especially if the dry weather has resulted in restrictions on outdoor water use. With the predictions that climate change due to global warming may increase the likelihood of these kinds of weather extremes, gardeners across the country can benefit from strategies to help their gardens cope with drought and make the best use of available water.

Leonard Perry of the University of Vermont Extension Service offers some tips for drought-wise gardening, including a prioritized plant watering list when water is in short supply. Give the highest priority to newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials, as well as newly seeded or repaired lawns. Established plants can endure more drought and even tolerate wilting and still recover. But even established plants growing in sandy soils or in windy, exposed spots will benefit from supplemental water, as will vegetable crops, especially when they are flowering and setting fruits.

When you do water, don't use overhead sprinklers that lose lots of water to evaporation. Instead water by hand or use soaker hoses or drip irrigation that place water right where its needed.

David Whiting, Carol O'Meara, and Michael Bauer of Colorado State University Extension offer some additional tips on the critical watering periods for vegetables. They note that beans have the highest water use of any common garden vegetable, so this might be a crop to forgo when drought hits. Corn needs water most at tasseling, silking, and ear development, while cole crops need consistent moisture throughout their development.

They suggest planting in blocks instead of rows to shade the soil more and reduce evaporation. If drought is really severe, their advice is to plant and water a few containers of productive plants like tomatoes, and sow a non-irrigated cover crop in the garden to prevent erosion and add organic to the soil while waiting for conditions to improve.

To read more about coping with drought in the garden, go to: Drought Gardening and Home Vegetable Garden Management During a Drought .

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