Tips for Creating a Drought-Tolerant Garden

Think you can’t grow a garden because you live in an area prone to drought? Think again. Gardens are possible anywhere if you employ some water-savvy tips and plant the right varieties of plants. Obviously, an huge, lush and green lawn may out of the question, but you can still grow edible and ornamental gardens in arid regions.

Watering can in the garden

Watering can via Ramon Gonzalez

Tips for creating a drought-tolerant garden

1. Start with the soil.

I can’t stress enough how fundamental well-amended soil is to a happy garden that will be able to tolerate drought. You can prepare your garden’s soil by adding copious amounts of rich, organic compost. Amended soil retains more moisture than sandy types of soil. Add your homemade compost or well-rotted manure to your vegetable plots and ornamental beds.

2. Mulch, mulch–and mulch again.

No matter how much effort goes into amending and improving your soil structure, water will escape early if you don’t mulch. Reduce the amount of water your soil evaporates and how much water is lost to runoff by applying a thick layer of mulch every spring. Need to stick to a garden budget? Use newspapers and cardboard as a mulch.

3. Weeding.

I know weeding is a tedious and laborious experience, but it is very important. Weeds will compete with your ornamental and edible plants for the little precious moisture that is available in the soil. Every weed that grows in your garden is sapping vital nutrients and water from nearby plants.

4. Grow in containers.

Expansive garden beds may not be an option for you if you live in a drought-prone region. Maybe you have too much land that would make preparing your soil cost-prohibitive. In those cases you should turn to raised garden beds and container gardening to save money. Don’t forget to mulch your containers because water will evaporate in the same manner as a garden bed.

Want something a little bigger than a raised bed and containers? Look into drought gardening techniques like keyhole gardens and hugelkultur gardens, two trendy gardening techniques that employ little water.

Watering a Garden Bed

Watering the garden via Ramon Gonzalez

5. Watering.

Learn how to avoid overwatering plants so that you don’t waste time and resources. Watering in the early part of the day before the sun has risen will allow water to seep into your soil and lessen how much will be lost to evaporation. Even better, install a drip irrigation system to automate the process and deliver water right to the plant’s roots. Install a rain barrel even if you live in an area with low annual rainfall. Every drop of water you save from runoff or divert from the sewer system is a drop of water you don’t have to pay for out of pocket.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly pear cactus via Ramon Gonzalez

6. Drought-tolerant vegetable suggestions.

Vegetable gardens are possible even in areas that experience drought and low rainfalls. This list isn’t complete, but you can take suggested plants as a starting point.

  • Low prickly pear cactus (edible fruits and leaf pads of O. humifusa)
  • Rhubarb, once mature is drought resistant
  • Swiss chard
  • “Hopi Pink” corn
  • Asparagus, once established
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Legumes: Chickpea, Tepary beans, Moth bean, Cowpea, “Jackson Wonder” lima bean
  • Green striped cushaw squash
  • “Iroquois” cantaloupe
  • Okra
  • Peppers
  • Armenian cucumber
  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Lavender
  • Amaranth (green leafed varieties)
  • Rosemary
  • “Pineapple” tomato
  • Chiltepines-wild chiles

Creating a drought-tolerant garden is possible if you sit down and plan your garden before you start digging.

Nourish your soil with compost and organic matter to maximize every drop of water you put into it the soil. Amending garden soil can become an expensive proposition. Don’t be afraid to start small and grow in a few raised beds and containers to get started. Automating your watering schedule will prevent you from losing plants, and delivering water to the plant’s root system will lessen how much you use.

Conduct an online search for native plants in your area and recommended drought-tolerant plants. Generally speaking, native plants will use less water and fertilizers than cultivated plants, because they are hardier and have evolved to grow on rainfall.

How do you prepare your garden to survive drought? What plants do you find most successful for drought gardening?

Share tips, start a discussion or ask one of our experts or other students a question.

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