Gardening Through Droughts and Dry Weather

rain barrel drought gardeningLast summer gardens all over the country were hit hard (as were farms!) by the severe drought that parched much of the country. Utah was no exception, with dry days stretching into weeks as fires burned on locations all around our little property. Gardening through a drought is not easy – those hot dry days really take a toll on your garden. There are several things you can do to help your plants stay healthy while still conserving water. Many of these ideas are old ones, but technology has made some of them a lot easier – such as rain barrels that offer nice features like spigots, planters and more.

* Compost. Compost and other organic matter added to your soil can help to hold onto moisture in between watering or rainfall. The more organic matter in your soil, the better. Loose, moist, well-drained soil comes from lots of plant matter mixed in. You can add all kinds of things to your compost pile – shredded newspaper, coffee grounds, egg shells, kitchen waste, and yard waste. Just avoid fats, meats and dairy – as well as any diseased plants.

* Mulch. Mulch. Mulch. A nice thick layer of mulch on top of your garden bed will help to retain moisture. When you water, make sure that the water is penetrating the mulch and really soaking into the soil. Then, the mulch will help to hold the moisture in where your plants can use it. Straw, grass clippings, finished compost, and even newspaper can be used for mulch. In some cities, mulch is available from your city waste department. Just be careful not to use uncomposted wood mulch in the veggie garden as the wood will take up too much nitrogen while it breaks down, robbing your plants of their most useful fertilizer.

* Drip irrigation. Spraying water into the air on a hot day is a huge waste. Much of that water will evaporate before your plants  even feel it. Keeping the water down low will give your plants a chance to soak it up before it disappears. A drip irrigation system can help to keep the water flowing to your plant’s roots at a steady, slow pace so they can use it. Much less water is wasted.

* Water well, then wait. Once your plants are established, a good, deep soaking once or twice a week is much more effective than little daily showers that don’t get far enough into the soil. Water your garden well, then dig down an inch or so into the soil. The soil should be moist. If it is not, your plants are going to grow their roots at the top of the soil instead of down deep where they will better survive dry conditions.

* Choose water-wise plants. Whenever possible, choose plants that are adapted to a dryer climate.

* Install a rain barrel or two. It is amazing how much water can come off of even a small roof in a light rain. Even the occasional sprinkle can fill a rain barrel in minutes. Don’t stop with your home roof, you can also add rain barrel collectors to sheds, garages, and greenhouses as well. In dry areas, rain barrels will only provide supplemental water, but it will still be a big help. You can find really cool rain barrels that make them super easy to use, and some of them are also very attractive. You can see rain barrels on Amazon here: http://www.gardeningiteasy.com/rainbarrel.

With just a few simple steps, you can go a long way towards saving money on your water bill while still maintaining a thriving vegetable garden even in times of drought.

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