Garden Strategies to Cope with Drought – Part 2
January 15, 2020
In part 1, we looked at strategies for sustainable water management practices to help with collecting and storing water. However, there are other ways we can protect our gardens and help them survive through periods of limited rainfall and hot temperatures while providing us with food.
Design and utilize microclimates
For the last ten years, I’ve experimented with creating beneficial microclimates and used the ones already onsite to help mitigate moisture loss and protect plants from harsh weather. In hot, dry, and windy conditions, plants tend to lose moisture faster, so designing in more shade and wind protection can help save your garden. Crop covers, shade from buildings and vertical structures can all make a positive difference. Assess the opportunities and threats around your home and note down any places you could improve your design or make changes.
- Group plants together to increase humidity and reduce transpiration. Use large-leafed, tall plants to help naturally shade small, short ones.
- Cluster drought-hardy plants together to avoid wasting water on mixed plantings. Group thirsty plants in a large pot or zone and water more frequently.
Choose plants wisely
Plants anchor and protect topsoil from erosion and being lost in dust storms. Careful plant selection and timing can minimize losses to drought and heat.
- Food producing edibles tend to have higher water needs than water-wise native plants. This is especially the case for fruiting crops like eggplant, cucumber, melons, and fruit trees. Ideally, locate these in the areas that collect the most moisture or in self-watering container gardens. There’s no point growing them unless they produce fruit! For example, I planted bananas at the lowest end in my kitchen garden on the boundary where water flows down and pools in times of heavy rain. They soak up any available moisture and continue producing fruit even during drought.
- Grow robust, drought-hardy herbs and perennials that produce a good harvest with little water. These include rosemary, oregano, aloe vera, thyme, marjoram, lemongrass, savory, chillis, pineapples, and garlic chives.
- Save your water for edibles with higher water needs like leafy greens, mints, and fruiting crops. Many can be grown in self-watering pots, mulched well, and continue producing a harvest.
- Choose heat-tolerant, dwarf and low-water-needs edible varieties. Many compact cultivars are available that need less space, moisture, and time to mature. For example, I grow tiny Cucamelons (Melothria scabra) instead of large cucumbers. The vine produces bite-sized fruits in a fraction of the time it takes to grow bigger varieties. Lebanese eggplants, banana capsicums, and cherry tomatoes also use less water and produce fruit faster than other cultivars.
Downscale your Garden to Pots
It may be necessary during drought conditions to grow less but still, enjoy a harvest from at least some plants. I save seeds and take cuttings from my favorite edibles, so I have a backup plan to regrow when conditions improve. I leave many of my garden beds to tough it out while carefully selecting other crops to grow in containers close to the house, where they’re easy to maintain.
These are a few strategies you can use to scale back but still grow fresh ingredients:
- Put low-value garden zones into ‘maintenance mode’ by covering with mulch or a living ground cover. Instead of growing seasonal crops in garden beds, you can still build your soil and prevent weeds until it rains or more favorable conditions return.
- Prioritize the most valuable and often needed herbs, salad greens, and edibles you buy regularly. It makes sense to keep these alive if you have to choose between food and ornamentals!
- Save seeds and grow seasonally appropriate herbs and leafy greens indoors as microgreens or sprouts. With minimal time, water, and space required, these are highly nutritious fresh ingredients that can be grown year-round in any climate in just 7-21 days.
- Fast-growing water-wise root crops such as round radishes, compact carrot varieties like ‘Paris Market,’ and bulbing spring onions add flavor and color to meals and are perfect for pots.
We may not be able to control the weather conditions, but we can still make wise choices about how and what we grow and still enjoy a fruitful harvest