With more and more parts of the U.S. experiencing summer droughts, it makes sense to stock your garden with herbs and vegetables that can thrive with less water.
The good news is that there are quite a lot of garden plants that will do well in your garden in low water conditions, even among traditionally water-hogging plants like greens and beans.
Here are some of the best. Be sure to read the tips at the end to help your low-water garden thrive.
Tomatoes: In general, tomatoes tolerate periods of drought fairly well. Some of the best-recommended for low water conditions include Pearson, early girl, super roma, golden nugget, neptune, Ozark pink, pineapple, SunGold, Heidi, Sioux, Rutgers, Jaune Flamme', Bush Goliath, Porter (and Porter Improved), celebrity, sweet 100, Arkansas traveler, Brandywine, Burbank, yellow pear and Purple Calabash Tomato. All cherry tomatoes are great in low water conditions.
Peppers and chiles
Most hot peppers thrive in heat and drought, especially Chiltepines (wild chiles). Carolina Wonder, Aji Dulce and Charleston Belle peppers are all also noted for their drought resistance.
Amaranth, chard, mustard greens, purslane, New Zealand spinach and Red Malabar summer spinach are all recommended for dry, hot weather. Lettuce is notoriously hard to grow in summer at any time, especially under low water conditions, but Butterhead Speckles lettuce is said to tolerate heat and drought remarkably well. Simpson Elite, Oakleaf, Red Salad Bowl, Ben Shemen and Anuenue lettuces are all said to tolerate drought conditions fairly well for lettuces, too.
Look for classic southern beans for the best varieties to handle heat and low-water conditions. Some good ones are black-eyed peas (cowpeas), garbanzo beans (chickpeas), moth bean, tepary bean (which is frequently grown in desert conditions), lima beans, Yard-long asparagus bean, Snap beans and pole beans (especially Rattlesnake). Tanya's Pink Pod and Kebarika (from Africa) are bush beans that are said to have excellent drought tolerance.
Look for native varieties for great drought tolerance, such as Hopi pink. Some heirloom sweet corn hybrids are fairly drought tolerant, such as Merit, Pearl White, Divinity, Bloody Butcher, Lancelot, Country Gentleman and Black Aztec. Many heirloom varieties like Oaxacan Green Dent originated in places like Mexico and have natural drought resistance. Baker's Creek, a fantastic source for organic heirloom seeds for corn and other veggies, says, "Corn can be very drought tolerant, but ears fill best when there is good soil moisture when tassels and silk first emerge."
Both summer and winter squash are fairly drought tolerant and are often actually overwatered. Look for heirloom varieties from your area for good results. Varieties such as Seminole pumpkin, Old Timey Cornfield Pumpkin, Tahitian Melon Squash, Green Cushaw and Long Island Cheese squash are said to be great for drought conditions.
Most melons are relatively drought tolerant, but some particularly good ones are sugar baby, crimson sweet and strawberry watermelons, Iroquois cantaloupe and Missouri gold melons. In general, smaller melons will perform better in drought conditions.
Give root crops good water at the start of their growth and then less as they mature. This helps prevent split roots. Some good low-water root vegetables include parsnips, carrots (especially short season varieties like Short 'N Sweet, Petite 'N Sweet, Little Finger and Paris Market) and beets (especially Golden Beet, Bull's Blood and Chioggia).
okra, cucumbers (especially Armenian) and eggplant (especially black beauty, Asian varieties and the heirloom Listada de Gandia) are also great for dry conditions.
Most herbs can thrive in low-water gardens. Some of the best include sage, lavender, borage, chives, fennel, feverfew, oregano, rosemary, savory, dill, wormwood and thyme.
- Generally, warm season crops such as tomatoes, squash and melons will fare better during a drought than cool season crops because they developed in parts of the world where periods of drought are part of the normal growing season.
- Heirloom varieties from warm, dry regions are also better adapted to drought conditions.
- Dwarf and miniature varieties of plants tend to require less water. Likewise, plants with shorter growing seasons require less water.
- No matter how drought tolerant a plant is supposed to be, be sure to keep germinating seeds and seedlings moist and provide consistent water when plants are very young.
- Be sure to thin seedlings to ensure that there's enough water to go around. Spacing plants farther apart will also allow for more water to go around.
- Add lots of organic matter to your soil, such as compost. The more you incorporate, the better the soil will retain water.
- Use mulch (see this list for easy natural sources of mulch) to retain moisture and keep the soil from becoming too hot and dry.
- Once plants are established, you can generally water deeply (1 to 2 inches) once a week even with less drought tolerant plants.
- Some plants, such as tomatoes and squash, actually benefit from less water once they are forming fruit. Tomatoes tend to taste better when grown during hot, dry periods.
- Be vigilant about pulling weeds that will steal water from your plants.
- Consider using permaculture techniques such as planting crops that need more water in lower areas of the garden or in bowl-shaped indentations in the garden where water will pool, and more drought resistant plants on higher ground.
- You can also erect windbreaks to protect plants and soil from drying winds during droughts. Plants such as sunflowers or Jerusalem artichokes can be grown as natural windbreaks.
Stay tuned next time for permaculture plants that thrive in low water conditions for high yield edible landscaping that will come back year after year.
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