Tips & Techniques
Betterdays in Full Swing

Vibrant Gardens Using Drought Tolerant Vegetables


By Linda Ly

Love vegetable gardening, but live in drought-like conditions? These drought-tolerant vegetables will thrive even in the hottest temperatures. Get started today!

With summer looming, the heat and drought ahead may mean you’re considering scaling back your vegetable garden. But even in dire drought conditions, don’t completely abandon your growing plans. By choosing the proper drought tolerant vegetables and developing a drought tolerant garden plan, you can still grow a healthy crop of beautiful vegetables that won’t send your water usage soaring.

Drought Tolerant Vegetables

Before planting your first plant, consider the drought tolerant vegetables specifically bred for drought resistance, as well as those that thrive in hot, arid climates. Popular choices include:

Drought tolerant vegetables develop deep root systems to counter both heat and low water levels. Many grow quickly, which also reduces their long-term water requirements. Some normally-thirsty vegetables come in drought-tolerant strains, such as the Black Diamond watermelon and Heatwave II tomatoes. When shopping for seeds and plants suitable for drought resistant gardening, look for labels that indicate the plant loves hot temperatures and has low to moderate water needs.

If you’re in the middle of or anticipating a drought year, buy young plants instead of starting your garden from seeds. Visit a local nursery and choose from the wide array of drought tolerant vegetables that already have a head start on the growing season. By buying young plants on the verge of flowering, you can save a month or two of watering at home.

If you choose a vegetable that’s known for quick maturity, like zucchini (which typically takes 60 days from seed to fruit), you’ll have a bountiful harvest within a month of transplanting into your garden. If you must plant from seeds, choose vegetables that go from seed to harvest in a short amount of time, like spring radishes, which can be harvested in less than 30 days.

Group Similar Vegetables

Different vegetables have different water requirements for the best production. If you plant your garden without taking the water needs of individual plants into consideration, you could end up watering some plants more than they need and others less than they need. Instead, focus on giving plants the perfect amount of moisture – while conserving water – by grouping vegetables in your drought tolerant garden according to their watering requirements.

drought tolerant garden

High water need: Pumpkins, onions, peppers, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, eggplant, potatoes and corn

Moderate water need: Beans, cantaloupe, asparagus and cowpeas

Low water need: Herbs, mustard greens, spinach, turnip, watermelon, lettuce and radishes

Developing a drought tolerant garden plan in this manner gives vegetables an added boost because they won’t be stressed from overwatering or underwatering.

Drought-resistant Soil

Garden soil can either act like a sieve – allowing water to quickly filter down – or a sponge. Spongy, drought-resistant soil absorbs water for a continuous source of plant moisture. Incorporate high-quality organic material, such as compost, into drought soil at the beginning of each season. This addition creates the perfect environment for moisture retention for drought tolerant vegetables.

You also want to reduce evaporation, or the amount of water that dries up before it absorbs into the soil. Nothing saves water more quickly, easily or economically in a garden than a 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.

Apply 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch around drought tolerant vegetables. Straw makes an excellent vegetable garden mulch. It breaks down over time, adding organic material and nutrients to the soil.

Watering Drought Tolerant Vegetables

Excessive water usage in the garden can happen when people overwater their plants.This can happen when they forget to turn off their irrigation during periods of rain or when they water in the heat of the day when evaporation is more likely to occur. All of these problems can be efficiently and quickly remedied with the installation of a timer, such as Gilmour’s Dual Outlet Electronic Water Timer. A timer can save hours of watering time when you program the start time, frequency and duration of watering. And if a summer storm rolls through, a rain delay feature will automatically pause the schedule to prevent unnecessary watering.

Dual Outlet Electronic Water Timer

For large vegetable garden areas, attach a soaker hose to a timer to deliver a steady stream of water straight to plant roots. Cover the area with mulch, and the water will stay right where you want it – with the plants. You can also deliver water right to the roots of individual plants by directing the spray of your watering nozzle toward the base of the plant. Both techniques conserve water and avoid waste.

If your goal is to use less water each week while drought gardening, skip the containers and plant drought tolerant vegetables directly into the ground. The soil in limited, above-ground spaces is more prone to evaporation and thus requires more water than the garden soil beneath your feet. Be sure to check your local laws and ordinances to understand water restrictions before watering during a drought.

With the right plants, proper tools and solid planting strategies, even a long, hot summer can result in a successful harvest.

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