As the state of California bakes in a record-breaking, three-year drought, residents are faced with adhering to state-wide water use regulations or pay a penalty up to $500. Considering that the state is the number one agricultural producer and exporter, the regulations, which include washing down driveways and sidewalks, watering of outdoor landscapes that cause excess runoff, using a hose to wash a motor vehicle, and using water in a fountain or decorative water feature, just might seem a little lax.

Conscious residents may want to cut back on their own water usage above and beyond the regulations by limiting their shower times, reducing flushing, and minimizing excess water loss in their homes. But what about residents with home gardens? Just how can a gardener keep their harvests intact when water is in short supply? Here are some tips to create a drought-tolerant garden that still produces a harvest.

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1. Evaluate Your Water System

If you typically water your garden with a built in sprinkler system, or by hand with a hose, consider installing a drip line system or soaker hoses instead. Drips or soakers hoses water low to the ground, ideally underneath a thick layer of mulch, thereby directing moisture deep into the soil which creates long deep roots and resilient plants. Additionally, water in the early morning, when it is still cool, or after the sun has set to minimize evaporation.

Graywater systems, watering systems that recycle water from sinks, bathtubs and laundry use, may be a bit more involved, but are a great way to reuse household grey water and reduce resource waste and save money. Check out Greywater Action for more information.

2. Compost and Amend

Good healthy plants start with good soil, and that is never more important than during a drought. Soil that is rich with organic material can retain more moisture and nutrients, even as the temperature rises. Before planting, be sure to amend the soil to give plants the extra boost they need under stress.

3. Mulch

Adding a thick (minimum four inches) layer of organic mulch to garden beds can trap moisture in soil, deter water-stealing weeds, and keep ground temperatures cool, protecting plant roots. Many cities offer mulch for free. Call your local sanitation department to find out.

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4. Shade

Shading plants from the harsh, hot sun can make all the difference in a successful garden. If natural shade from existing trees is not available, consider using landscaping shade cloth, or try companion planting methods, such as planting low laying spinach underneath heat loving peppers. The leaves from the pepper plants will provide a cool environment for the spinach, reducing soil moisture evaporation and sun scald.

5. Choose Plants Wisely

Some vegetables require regular waterings, like carrots and tomatoes, and don’t do well in dry climates for extended periods of time. However, squash, broccoli, prickly pear, rhubarb, okra, several herbs, chard, asparagus, arugula and many other vegetables can thrive in hot, dry climates. Investigate native edibles in your area and add them to your garden. Do research before planting to ensure a successful harvest.

6. Plant Wisely

Plant early so seedlings have time to establish strong roots, before the hot days of summer add stress. Group plants according to their watering needs, so water is used to maximum benefit. Companion Planting, such as the Three Sisters Method can protect, nourish and maximize plant growth, as well as conserve water. Also, rather than planting in rows, consider a block style layout, to reduce water and increase yield. Alternatively, grow vegetables in pots that can be moved indoors when temperatures swell.

Image Source: greychr/ Flickr

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