Gardening in Drought?

Vibrant garden crops during a drought? It’s possible. Here are some successful planning and coping strategies, most from the water-stressed West/Southwest. We’ll start with water harvesting, continue with plant selection, and finish with soil health practices.

It was 1994 and Tucson residents Brad and Rodd Lancaster wanted to save their sour orange tree. They dug and mulched a basin and graded the soil around it to catch runoff. Brad writes in his first book, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, “…we’ve since kept our supplemental waterings to three per year. Yet we live within the Sonoran Desert…[Tucson] annual rainfall averages just 12 inches…and most folks water their citrus trees at least once a week.” He continues: “…we decided to make rainwater the primary water source for all our outdoor needs…we created and planted…water-harvesting earthworks throughout our once-barren yard. The rain then gently soaked into the soil, soil erosion ceased, and verdant life began sprouting everywhere… We then [started using] greywater…Our daily municipal water use dropped from the Tucson residential average of 114 gallons per person per day to less than 20 gallons per person…This earned us five visits from workers at both the water and electric utilities because they were sure our meters were broken.”

Brad went on to learn from indigenous dryland water harvesters and both traditional and modern water-harvesting systems. His books, website, and blog feature multiple diverse strategies. Those my husband and I have implemented have made the difference for our gardens and land in both drought and wildfire. Unwatered for a dry, hot, rainless month after the wildfire, the gardens and surviving fruit trees still produced a decent harvest.

To Maximize Success

Favor native plants; they have a long history of adapting to your area. See native plant lists and native plant nurseries for your state. Nowadays, as many of our U.S. regions are one USDA Planting Zone warmer, people are also incorporating native plants from neighboring warmer, more arid areas.