How to Grow a Garden in a Drought

Here in California, we’re under water restrictions due to the severe drought conditions. We’re still able to water our yards (only on specific days of the week) but washing our cars is no longer allowed and we’re expected to attempt to cut our water consumption back 35%. When you’ve got a houseful of people bathing and you have a lot of laundry and dishes to wash, it can be tough, but I also know that my organic garden out back is taking a good amount of water, too. We can’t stop watering it, as the plants will die in these high temps, but we do need to still find a way to cut back our usage as much as possible. That requires some creativity as well as some plainly obvious actions and I hope to be able to report back in 60-days, our next billing cycle, to see if it works!

Here are the top 10 things I’m doing to keep the gardens alive and healthy without breaking the bank and making the California drought worse.

1) You know how you have to wait for the water to get hot enough for handwashing a few dishes or something else? Don’t waste that water – contain it! I keep a plastic bin in our sink, an all-purpose container, but what I’ve found helps even more is to fill the watering pitcher for both the indoor and outdoor gardens with that cold water, too!
2) Water in the morning, before it gets hot, so the plants don’t wilt and you require less to bring them back to life.
3) Put your plants as close together as is feasible. This means I’m doing a little climbing in-between plants when I’m picking tomatoes, but I’m watering less ground.
4) Plant what you can in portable pots! Move them to the shade after they’ve gotten enough sun so the dirt doesn’t dry out. This means a little manual labor, but it comes with the bonus of exercise!
5) Build a sturdy trellis system to keep your plants off the ground. This allows you direct access to the roots, wasting less water on the leaves and stems, and protecting them from burning in the heat, too. (This is an area where I need to improve when we plant our winter garden; we thought it was sturdy, but the tomatoes got so heavy, they have leaned over, so we really have to work to get the hose nozzle in there.
6) Install a drip system. We have an inexpensive hose that cost approximately $25 to set up. This waters just the roots/soil directly, you can turn it on and work on trimming the plants for a few minutes, then shut it off. It saves you time and you are sure the dirt is thoroughly saturated.
7) Build a horizontal herb garden that you can move in and out of the shade! With the right drainage system in place, primarily gardening/landscaping fabric and soil, the top line will drain into the one below it, and so forth. We have pallets for this purpose, allowing some creativity to paint and decorate.
8) Place containers outside if rain is forecasted. Even something big like a wheelbarrow can collect rain water to be repurposed in your garden.
9) Use good soil in the first place! If you use solid run-of-the-mill backyard dirt, it won’t provide the best environment for your plants and it will dry up faster than soil made to retain moisture. We spent $15 on three bags of organic soil for all of our pots and the planters this year and we still have a little left over. It was well worth the cost as it holds just enough water in, so we have to water the garden less.
10) This one seems obvious – as do a few tips, I’m sure – but sometimes it’s overlooked. Weed! Get rid of anything extra in the soil that could be leeching up the moisture. I typically weed daily, so it never gets out of control, and it’s much easier to stay on top of things. In addition, trimming off the dead branches and sucker branches makes the plant more compact so the water only has to go where it’s needed, aka less water.

Gardening is one of the best ways to supplement your shopping with organic, affordable, healthy produce, and if you spend a little extra time and care on it, your garden can save you a lot of money and provide a relaxing activity with a little exercise. Now that we’ve had our first garden here, and we’re enjoying tomatoes daily, we’re never going to be without one!


How do you save water and keep your garden growing in the heat? I’d love to hear more ideas!

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One Comment

  1. I have about 5 bowls of water around the house for the animals. When those need re-filling or cleaning up, that water goes into the potted plants too. Right now I’m looking at using the “gray-water” from my washing machine to water too.
    We’ll have to see how that goes though….

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