Nearly 40 percent of the contiguous U.S. is now in drought and gardeners are starting to feel the pinch whether by law or social media shaming. But a lush garden in drought conditions is achievable — and can be as simple as watering plants early, using mulch, and choosing the right species.
More plants than you might think do pretty well in drought conditions including beans, melons, tomatoes and squash. Focus on these plants for your summer garden and avoid brassica vegetables like kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower that tend to be gluttons for water. Save these vegetables for the cool seasons of fall and early spring when rain tends to be more plentiful.
But even water-thrifty vegetables need good gardening practices to help them thrive without steady rains. Start with one of the oldest of the tried and true water saving methods: mulch. Surrounding your plants with dry, brown organic matter like leaves, straw, or wood chips will help them retain moisture in the soil, encourage earthworm communities to do your tilling for you, and suppress weeds.
The timing of your watering in the season and day are also crucial. If you’ve established your vegetables with plenty of water early in the season they will have a strong enough root system to grow without as much water later. Plants also do most of their growing at night, so water in the evening to give them what they need. Some gardeners fear that watering at night could encourage some fungal diseases, but the trade off is worth the small risk. If you water in the morning most of it will just evaporate as the day heats up.