Gardener’s Guide: Gardening During a Drought

The first ever recorded multidecadal mega-drought in recorded U.S. history has plagued the Southwest for nearly twenty years. And scientists fear it’s going to get worse, especially with anthropogenic climate change fueling the fire. For gardeners in the Southwest, this is more than a nightmare. We gardeners in the East take water for granted; we can quench our plants’ thirst without a second thought. But Southwestern gardeners must also consider utility bills, drinking water, and other factors. So here, we’ll provide some tips for gardening during a drought to help you enjoy your hobby as the Southwest gets drier. 

Conserve Water

The most obvious suggestion for gardening during a drought is conserving water. The more water you conserve, the more you have for later use. There are a few ways you can do this in your garden. 

The first way is to build a rain garden. We have a detailed article about planning and building a rain garden here.

Rain gardens are depressions in the ground to which you divert rainwater. Not only do they help you conserve water, but they also recharge groundwater, keep plants hydrated during droughts, and control pollution. Rain gardens house native species because they are best adapted to a region’s moisture conditions, so try to plant native species in your rain garden. 

Another way to conserve water is to place a rain barrel in your yard. Rain barrels collect water when it rains. This might not be the best option for water conservation during a drought, as there will be little water to collect. In addition, many people prefer to use a rain garden over a rain barrel because barrels are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. But it’s a good idea to keep on just in case you do see some rain so that you can conserve it. 

Buy Drought-Resistant Plants

Many people in the Southwest already have drought-resistant plants, such as succulents, in their gardens because they are low-maintenance and do the best in their region. There are, however, plant species other than succulents that are drought-resistant, such as:

  • Cone flowers
  • Lamb’s Ears
  • African Daisies 
  • Marigold
  • Aster 
  • Zinnia 
  • Yucca 
  • Lavender 
  • Dogwood (Tree)
  • Crepe Myrtle (Tree) 
  • Lilac (Tree)  

Do your research and find out which plants do well in your hardiness zone. There are options out there! For a drought-tolerant gardening plan, check out this article by Better Homes & Gardens.

Do This, not That

When gardening during a drought, you need to cut out a few “luxury” gardening tasks. These tasks can actually waste a lot of water, so knowing which ones to perform and which to nix will help you save water.

Enrich your Soil 

Do: Healthy soil can actually help plants survive with less water. Create a compost bin, use a vermiculture box, or collect dead organic matter to enrich your soil. Organic matter will help your soil retain more moisture, and if you use a hot compost, you can incorporate even more moisture. 

Don’t Do: It’s important that you not use any fertilizer on your plants during a drought. Fertilizing them will make your plants grow bigger and their roots grow longer, which means they’ll need more water. Fertilizers containing salt will end up killing your plants, as they usually leach out of the soil with rainwater as runoff.

If you need to fertilize to keep your plants healthy, use xVital. xVital contains no salts or chemicals, and it evaporates as nitrogen after plants absorb their fill. In addition, it comes in liquid form, which will help quench your plants’ thirst.  

Give your Plants the Best Chance to Drink

Do: Give your plants a better survival rate by plucking out any weeds that will steal water from them. You can also add mulch to help your soil retain water and protect it from wind and heat. And remember to water your plants. A great way to keep them watered while conserving water is to use a drip irrigation system. You don’t even need to invest in a fancy one; you can make one yourself using a water bottle. 

Don’t: To save water, don’t use your hose to water your plants. Get water from your rain barrel, a nearby stream or pond, and even use bottled water. This will help you keep your utility bill down. If you’re gardening during the beginning of a dry spell, don’t plant anything new. Already-established plants need less water. 

Plan for the Future

Scientists predict that this drought might last years into the future. To prepare for this, you can go ahead and perform the above steps, such as buying a rain barrel to collect water, planting a rain garden, and planting drought-resistant plants. 

Another way you can plan for the future is by saving the seeds of the plants that did well in your garden during the drought. They will be well-adapted to low-moisture conditions, and saving seeds is the best way to grow resilient, healthy plants. 

By following these tips, you can plan for future droughts and keep your garden healthy in the present. For more gardening tips, check out our gardener’s guide