By Linda Ly
With summer looming, you might find it necessary to scale back your vegetable garden during a months-long dry spell. But that doesn’t mean you have to abandon it entirely. By employing a few key strategies for conserving water and planting wisely, you can still grow a crop of healthy, beautiful vegetables that won’t send your water usage (and your water bill) soaring.
Choose Drought-tolerant Vegetable Varieties
Before the first plant even goes in the ground, do a little sleuthing and seek out cultivars that are specially bred for drought resistance, as well as those that do well in hot, arid climates. Heat-loving leafy greens include edible amaranth, Malabar spinach, mustard greens and chard, while crops like black-eyed peas, yardlong beans, eggplant and okra are well adapted to dry gardens. Some normally thirsty vegetables also come in drought-tolerant strains, such as Arkansas Black watermelon, Sugar Baby watermelon and Heatwave II tomatoes. When shopping for seeds or plants, look for labels that indicate the plant thrives in hot temperatures with low to moderate water needs. And when you do water, deliver the spray of your watering nozzle right to the roots to conserve water and avoid waste.
Choose Vegetables That Have Short Growing Seasons
This is the time to skip those late-blooming, late-maturing crops, like sweet potatoes and winter squash. Instead, stick with vegetables that go from seed to harvest in a short amount of time, like spring radishes (less than 30 days) and bush snap beans (60 days), or cultivars that ripen early in the season, like Early Girl tomatoes (60 days) and Early Prolific Straightneck summer squash (45 days). In fact, any variety with “early” in its name is a best bet!
Buy Starter Plants Instead of Starting From Seed
If you don’t have your heart set on a particular variety of vegetable, visit a local nursery and choose from the array of plants that already have a head start on the growing season. By buying a young plant that’s on the verge of flowering, you’ve saved yourself a month or two of watering at home had you sowed your own seeds for it. And if you go with a crop that’s known for maturing quickly, like zucchini (which typically takes 60 days from seed to fruit), you can have a bountiful harvest within a month of transplanting it in your garden.
Mulch Your Garden Beds
Nothing saves water more quickly, easily and economically in the garden than a good, thick layer of organic mulch. Mulch helps conserve moisture, prevents water runoff and improves soil tilth, which in turn supports stronger, deeper root growth and plant health. Pile it on top of Gilmour’s Soaker Hose that’s already saving water by delivering a steady stream straight to plant roots, and you’ll ensure that the water stays where you want it—with your plants. Always mulch your plants at the beginning of the season, being careful not to pile the mulch against the stems (which can lead to rot), and add more mulch as it naturally breaks down into the soil.
Skip the Containers
Want to use less water each week? Skip (or reduce) the containers for vegetable gardening. That includes raised beds, which are essentially large containers. The soil in these limited, above-ground spaces is more prone to evaporation and thus requires more water than the native soil beneath your feet. If your native soil is healthy and free of toxins, work in a good amount of compost and plant your vegetables directly in the ground.
Install An Irrigation Timer
Excessive water usage in the garden often results from people overwatering their plants, forgetting to turn off their irrigation during periods or rain, or from watering in the middle of the day when evaporation is more likely to occur. All of these problems can be remedied with the installation of a timer, such as the Dual Outlet Electronic Water Timer. Attach a soaker hose to the timer and you can save hours of watering your garden by programming the start time, frequency and duration of watering. And if a summer storm rolls through, the Rain Delay feature will automatically pause your schedule to prevent unnecessary watering.
With the right tools and planting strategies, even a long, hot summer can result in a successful harvest.
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