5 Tips For a Water-Saving Veggie Garden

By Ramon Gonzalez, TreeHugger

Across the various social media sites that I use, gardeners have been talking about the drought, and what it means for their gardens and what plants they will grow in the future. Many are wondering whether there is room for a vegetable garden in a drier future. Some are looking at ways to conserve water, and others are looking at vegetable varieties that have adapted to growing in hot and dry conditions.

Below are some suggestions for vegetable gardening in times of drought that I’ve gleaned from research and these conversations.

1. It Starts with the Soil

Well-amended soil is the foundation of a vegetable garden that will tolerate drought. Prepare your garden’s soil by adding lots of rich, organic compost that will help trap moisture and encourage deep root formation in plants. Biochar aids soil fertility, and this highly porous charcoal also helps the soil retain water.

All of this soil amending is for naught if you aren’t mulching to reduce evaporation and water runoff. A thick carpet of mulch will also keep down the weeds that compete with your vegetables for water and nutrients.

2. Plant Smarter to Beat the Heat

Plant your vegetable garden in block-style layout rather than in rows to create microclimates and shade and to reduce water evaporation.

Lay out your vegetable garden so that plants with similar water requirements are grouped together. For example, cucumbers, zucchini, and squash all have similar water needs. Focus on vegetables that produce abundant crops like tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplants.

Edit the number of plants you grow to conserve water and space. One or two determinate tomato plants can serve your needs. Unless you can’t live without them, avoid growing space and water hogs like broccoli and cauliflower.

3. The Three Sisters Garden Explained

Use planting Techniques like the Three Sisters Garden, which is a companion planting method that the Native Americans have used for ages that you can employ in your own garden.

In the Three Sisters Garden mound, beans fix nitrogen into the soil, corn provides support for the beans to grow up, and the bristles on the squash stem protect the corn from the corn earworm while shading the soil all three plants grow in.

4. When Plants Need Water

If your vegetables are planted before the hot and dry days of summer arrive, they’ll have time to establish a root system that will allow them to survive the hotter days. Deep watering will train roots to grow deep into the ground. A drip irrigation system will deploy water where it is needed and potentially reduce your water consumption by as much as 50%. Soil amended as described above should be able to go between two and seven days between irrigation.

Knowing at what stage of development your vegetables will need water can also help you reduce the amount of water you use. Vining crops like cucumbers, assorted melons, summer and winter squash are frequently over-watered by gardeners.

They require less water than many other vegetables, and watering is only critical during flowering and fruiting. The same goes for eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. In fact, this year has been great for tomato lovers because the heat and drought has lead to some of the most flavorful tomatoes in recent years.

5. Choosing Vegetables for Drought Tolerance

A few years ago, at the dedication ceremony of the organic rooftop farm at Uncommon Ground, the farm manager told me she had to research farming techniques in the American Southwest to be able to produce food for the restaurant. The conditions –just a few feet above ground — were so different that it was like she wasn’t gardening in Chicago anymore.

Seek out plants and varieties that do well in hot and arid locations. You can purchase seeds for agricultural crop varieties that are arid-land, adapted from sources like Native Seeds/SEARCH.

Beans have the highest water requirement of all of the common garden vegetables. And cole crops and root crops need a consistently moist soil during their life span. But you can still grow your favorite vegetables even if they aren’t exactly adapted to growing in a dry garden.

Varieties with short days to maturity are a viable option if you are conserving water in the garden. As are miniature varieties like the mini bell peppers and eggplants I grow because they need less water for fruit development than their larger counterparts.


Drought Tolerant Vegetable Suggestions

This is by no means a complete list of vegetables and herbs that will tolerate drought, but the list can serve as a place to start.

1. Low prickly pear cactus-edible fruits and leaf pads of O. humifusa
2. Rhubarb-once mature is drought resistant.
3. Swiss Chard
4. ‘Hopi Pink’ corn
5. Asparagus-once established
6. Jerusalem artichoke
7. Legumes: Chickpea, Tepary beans, Moth bean, Cowpea, ‘Jackson Wonder’ lima bean.
8. Green Striped Cushaw squash
9. ‘Iroquois’ cantaloupe
10. Okra
11. Peppers
12. Armenian cucumber
13. Sage
14. Oregano
15. Thyme
16. Lavender
17. Amaranth-green leafed varieties
18. Rosemary
19. ‘Pineapple’ tomato
20. Chiltepines-wild chiles

Do you have any suggestions for other vegetables that handle drought well? Let us know in the comments.



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Atocha B.
Mary B.3 years ago


Nr B.
N B.3 years ago

thank you very much

Elaya Raja
Elaya Raja3 years ago

Good. Thank you.

Past Member
clare r.3 years ago

Very interesting...living in the uk i'm not sure the 3 sister method would work. Thought the block layout made a lot of sense.

Sara L.
Sara L.3 years ago

So valuable! Great talk on soil, which i was always concerned. Thanks for the wonderful post and keep them coming! http://www.homegardeningtips.com/

Amy Stotler
Amy Stotler3 years ago

Great information, thank you

Michael Kirkby
Michael Kirkby3 years ago

Excellent ideas. Twittered

Vicki P.
Victoria P.3 years ago

Thank-you for the interesting article

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Good information. Thank you for sharing.

Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M.3 years ago

water, mulch, keep weeds down and keep vigilant, save your shower water in a huge bucket and toss it on your flowers but mind you use user friendly ' green ' soap. Here in Melb Au we are dab hands at coping with gardens in drought .... and the council or water authorities need to put in water restrictions very strictly so you all learn like we did..it isnt hard to save water. My garden suffered from time to time over a 10 - 12 year period..yep that long and then my garden came back even here when I m oved, my garden is great...I learnt to cope