How to garden during a drought

There are ongoing droughts in roughly half of the United States. In some states, the droughts are categorized as D3 or D4, meaning extremely severe conditions. Gardening may seem impossible during a drought, but there are several things you can do to grow a garden with less water.

Why do droughts occur?

Droughts are periods where a region experiences conditions that are drier than average.  According to the U.S. Geological Survey, when rainfall is less frequent than usual for weeks or years, drought conditions may develop. Droughts cause plants to die and streams, lakes and water reservoirs to begin drying up.

Many believe climate change is a significant driver behind droughts. Higher-than-average temperatures increase a dry climate’s susceptibility to drought conditions.

Considerations when gardening during a drought

Garden size

Many people grow more vegetables than they need, which is great for giving vegetables to friends but isn’t ideal for droughts. Consider shrinking the garden’s size to accommodate just your household.

You can use last year’s yield to determine how much you can shrink your garden. If half of your vegetables went to waste, it’s safe to assume you can shrink the garden’s size by roughly 50%.

Garden design

Gardens grown in enclosed spaces, such as a raised bed, tend to retain more water than those grown directly in the soil. Rather than planting your seeds in a straight line, consider planting them in hexagonal groups. Planting your seeds in offset hexagons provides more shade for the soil, resulting in less evaporation.

Consider using a companion planting strategy. Companion planting strategies group mutually beneficial plants together. For example, when planting corn, beans and squash together, the cornstalks provide structure for the beans, the squash provides mulch as it spreads and the beans add nitrogen to the soil.

Watering strategy

Consider watering your plants deeply once a week rather than watering them daily. This practice results in a more robust root system and less evaporation. The deep root system helps your plants survive during hot, dry conditions.

Drip irrigation systems and soaker hoses are excellent ways to water your plants during a drought. These systems reduce evaporation and keep your plants’ foliage dry, reducing the likelihood of fungus. Drip systems can be set up to carefully monitor the amount of water being used.

Gardening strategy

  • Soil: Choosing soil packed with organic matter helps your garden retain moisture.
  • Timing: Plant your garden early in the spring if possible. Planting earlier in the season allows your plants to begin growing before it gets too hot and dry. If you have to plant your garden closer to summer, consider using transplants since they have established root systems.
  • Fertilizers: Fertilizers cause plants to grow faster than average, meaning they need more water. Growing plants without fertilizer results in slower growth, but they won’t need as much water and will often be just as large as you need them to be.
  • Weeding: Make sure you remove weeds often. Weeds compete with your plants for water and vital nutrients. Adding mulch to your garden will reduce the impact of weeds and evaporation while keeping the soil cooler.
  • Pest control: Avoid using herbicides and pesticides as much as possible. Weeds often resist herbicides during dry spells, while pesticides can cause plant damage when it’s excessively dry.

Top products for gardening during a drought

Best soil for droughts

best FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil

FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil

This contains earthworm castings, crab meal and other organic material. It is ideal for indoor and outdoor gardens and doesn’t contain excessive amounts of fertilizer.

Sold by Amazon

best Miracle-Gro Natures Care Organic Soil

Miracle-Gro Nature’s Care Organic Soil

If you’re striving to retain water, this soil mix is the ideal choice. It’s packed with coir, alfalfa meal, bone meal, earthworm castings and kelp meal.

Sold by Amazon

Best soaker hoses for droughts

best Linex Garden Soaker hose

Linex Garden Soaker Hose

This PVC hose has a universal hose connection with corrosion-resistant caps. Although it may spring leaks if the water pressure is too high, it is relatively durable. It’s available in 15- and 25-foot sizes.

Sold by Amazon

best Rocky Mountain Goods Soaker Hose

Rocky Mountain Goods Soaker Hose

It is durable and provides even water distribution. It soaks from one side and sprays upward from the other. It lays out easily and includes a seven-year warranty.

Sold by Amazon

Best drip irrigation kits for droughts

best Raindrip Irrigation Kit

Raindrip Irrigation Kit

The long tubes make it simple to use this system between multiple containers. Although assembly takes a while, it’s easy to use once you set it up. It’s available with or without a timer.

Sold by Amazon

best Dig Raised Bed Garden Drip Irrigation Kit

Dig Raised Bed Garden Drip Irrigation Kit

The installation process for this kit is straightforward, and all the pieces required for assembly are included. This distributes water evenly, and most people felt their gardens looked better after using it. The included manual is thorough and easy to understand.

Sold by Home Depot

Best raised garden beds for droughts

Best Choice Products Raised Garden Bed

Best Choice Products Raised Garden Bed

This features lockable wheels that make it easy to move in and out of the sunlight. The bed’s height eliminates the need to bend down while gardening. The wood may begin splitting after the first growing season, but many felt it was sturdy.

Sold by Amazon

best Greenes Fence Pre-Galvanized Powder-Coated Steel Raised Garden Bed

Greenes Fence Pre-Galvanized Powder-Coated Steel Raised Garden Bed

Assembly is easy, although it doesn’t come with bolts to secure it. It’s lightweight and sturdy. It’s available in brown, green, gray and white. The open bottom allows for proper drainage.

Sold by Amazon

Best weeder for droughts

best Grampa's Weeder

Grampa’s Weeder

Most found weeding to be easy with this tool. The extended handle eliminates the need to bend down when weeding. Some users felt it was cumbersome and fragile, although most found it sturdy.

Sold by Amazon

best Corona ComfortGEL 2-Prong 39 in. Steel Extended Reach Weeder

Corona ComfortGEL 2-Prong 39 in. Steel Extended Reach Weeder

Although some people reported their tool breaking after only a few uses, many felt it was lightweight and sturdy. The long handle and comfort grip make it comfortable to use. The heavy-duty foot pedal makes pulling weeds a breeze.

Sold by Amazon

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