How to Care for Your Vegetable Garden During a Drought
Whether you're an avid vegetable gardener or a novice, there are certain conditions in the natural world that can't be prevented. Chief among them is a drought. When a prolonged period of little rainfall is coupled with scorching summer heat, your once-fruitful vegetable garden will soon show signs of distress—if you don't take the proper precautions, that is. We spoke with Dominique Charles, an avid gardener, garden consultant, and the founder of Plots & Pans, for tips on how to save your vegetable garden when faced with dry conditions, plus preemptive steps for establishing a healthy foundation.
Set your plot up for success.
Before weather conditions turn unfavorable, planting your vegetables in a proper soil mixture, where they can receive ample nutrients, will help yield success. "I'm big on setting a strong foundation," says Charles. "Having good soil will get you ahead of the game, so by the time you get to a drought, your foundation is already strong." Soil combined with compost or organic matter "will aid in deep root formation while also retaining moisture," she adds. If you don't already have an at-home composting practice, Charles suggests checking your local garden center, which might have some available to purchase.
Add a layer of mulch.
Top off your soil with approximately two-and-a-half inches of mulch or hay to help lock in moisture. Throughout the drought, replenish any areas that appear sparse.
Keep weeds at bay.
"Weeding is especially essential during a drought, since weeds, like all plants, grow with water," explains Charles. "Remove anything in excess that could contend with the limited water supply available to your vegetable garden." Maintaining a top layer of mulch, as Charles previously suggested, will also help keep weeds from proliferating.
Establish a strategic watering schedule.
Charles recommends watering in the early morning hours before the sun begins shining its harsh rays on your produce. To help establish and maintain a routine, set a "watering alarm" to keep you on track and consistent—a key to maintaining healthy vegetation—instead of trying to overcompensate for the lack of rainfall. Charles also suggests gardeners explore rain barrels, which collect water through small holes, and can be used at a later time to hydrate your plants.
Think about your plants' layout.
For those who live in drought-prone areas, consider what vegetables are planted next to each other. Do they have similar watering needs or require opposing care? "Plant like-minded things together so they get the water the require and you don't waste resources on vegetables that don't need it," says Charles.