By Linda Ly
In drought-stricken areas, it’s sometimes easier to just throw in the towel (er, the trowel) and put the garden on hiatus in the height of summer. Longer days and rising temperatures can be hard on thirsty plants, but that doesn’t mean you have to go without greenery. By learning how to conserve the moisture in your soil and choose heat-loving plants for your beds, you can have a beautiful garden that needs much less water than you think.
1. Amend the soil with organic matter
To set your yard up for successful gardening during a drought, it all starts with soil. Digging in organic matter (such as well-rotted compost) provides nutrients to your plants, stimulates beneficial worms and microbes and improves soil texture and moisture retention. By amending your soil at the start of every season, your plants will grow stronger and healthier, which will help them withstand the drier weather ahead.
2. Grow plants with similar water needs together
This is especially true of vegetables, herbs, and other edible plants. Deep-rooted crops like tomatoes and winter squash are heavy feeders, thrive in the sun and require more water, while shallow-rooted crops like spring radishes and salad greens grow well in partial shade and need less water. By grouping your plants by their sunlight and moisture needs, you can avoid over-(or under-) watering.
3. Plant Mediterranean herbs for the best of both worlds
Lavender, sage, oregano, marjoram, thyme and rosemary are native to the Mediterranean region, and once established, they thrive in hot, dry summers and cool, mild winters. Not only are they drought-tolerant and perennial (making them perfect for ornamental borders and garden beds), they’re also edible and great for container gardening, or a small kitchen garden if you don’t have space for a full-scale vegetable bed.
4. For a splash of color, plant spring bulbs
Ornamental grasses and succulents are most ideal for hot, dry weather, but can feel a bit bland if your style leans toward traditional flower gardens. Instead of annuals, try tucking spring bulbs among your native xeriscape and perennial herbs. They provide a bright pop of color in the garden and many varieties (such as Mexican shellflower, bearded iris, black-eyed susan and purple coneflower) are drought-tolerant.
5. Water your plants at the root zone
Instead of using sprinklers, which can lead to water evaporation and wasteful runoff, use your watering nozzle to direct your water where your plants need it most—at their roots. This also keeps diseases at bay, since any moisture clinging to the leaves from overhead watering can encourage fungal growth.
6. Mulch your raised beds and containers
Organic mulch is a must if you want to conserve moisture, get rid of garden weeds, insulate plant roots against heat (or cold) and amend your soil at the same time. Use a natural mulch such as shredded bark or straw (never hay, which contains seed heads from the grass) and apply twice a year in the spring and fall. Garden beds benefit from several inches of mulch spread over the soil, while containers need only an inch or two each season to help retain moisture.
7. Mound leaf litter around trees as a natural mulch
Stop raking away those leaves! While the need to groom your yard is an instinctive one, that seasonal habit of raking, bagging and disposing of dead leaves can actually be detrimental to your landscape. Leaf litter, when left to decompose, puts nutrients back into the earth and acts as Mother Nature’s mulch, protecting your trees from heat (or cold) while conserving moisture in the soil at the same time.
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