Whilst we have had a ‘once in a generation’ drought here in the North West of England, we should be planning for more. Part of this is selection of what to grow. There are a number of drought tolerant vegetables varieties available, but without some preparation, extreme drought and heat will kill even the hardiest. Planting at the correct time is crucial.
Sow the seeds earlier in the spring or plant later in the autumn to minimise the use of irrigation. Add a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch, which can cut the need for watering in half. Use grass clippings, dried leaves, pine needles, straw or shredded bark to keep the soil cooler and reduce water evaporation. Also, raised beds help retain water better than open beds.
Plant in groupings or hexagonal offset patterns rather than in rows when growing drought tolerant vegetables. This will provide shade from the leaves to keep the soil cooler and water from evaporating.
How To Water Efficiently
Use a drip system to water. Overhead watering is not as efficient and a lot of the water just evaporates off the leaves. Water the garden in the late evening or early morning, between 9 pm and 6 am. Water more heavily when the plants are very young and reduce the amount as they mature. The exception to this is as the plants set fruit, reintroduce additional water for a time and then reduce it again.
How you water is also worth considering. Making your own plant drip feeder, out of plastic bottles, is straightforward, with a basic one consisting of a recycled plastic bottle, some holes in the cap and the bottom cut off, follow the link for details.
Drought resistant vegetables are often those with short days to maturity. Other options include the miniature varieties, bell peppers and eggplant for example. They need less water for fruit development than their larger cousins. The following is a list, albeit not complete, of types of drought resistant veggies:
- Rhubarb (once mature)
- Swiss chard
- Asparagus (once established)
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Mustard greens
- Armenian cucumber
- Cowpea (black-eyed pea) ‘
- Runner beans have a short growing season and can rely on residual water found in the soil.
Growing healthy drought resistant vegetables requires a strict adherence to a water schedule when plants are young and un-established. They also need a good layer of moisture retentive mulch, soil amended with organic matter to feed the plants.
There are plenty of garden plants that can resist the drought conditions that we have faced too, as James Wong has highlighted.