xDO_NOT_REUSE_140319_lake_folsom.jpg Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

How to keep your garden growing in a drought

By Nick Mediati (@dtnick) · Published March 19, 2014 at 10:47pm.

California is in the throes of a drought of fairly epic proportions. We made it through January—yes, January—without any significant rainfall this winter, and 2013 was San Francisco’s driest year on record. Yikes.

Put another way: While those of you elsewhere in the rest of the United States might be jealous of our 70-degree temperatures in mid-March, at least you’ll be able to flush your toilets and take a shower come August.

While the situation is dire, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to give up your garden this summer. You may have to let your lawn go brown, but with a little planning and care, you should be able to maintain an impressive flower bed or veggie garden while keeping water usage to a minimum.

Pick the right plants

First and foremost, you’ll want to choose plants that are well-suited to dry conditions—and no, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to resort to a cactus garden. The next time you visit your local nursery or garden center, keep an eye out for drought-tolerant plants, which have a lower thirst for water than other sorts of vegetation. If you’re in California, consider native plants, as many are adapted to the months-long periods of dry weather that characterize California summers.

Annie’s Annuals is a great place to start: It offers lots of plant varieties you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere else, and has a wide selection of drought-tolerant plants to chose from.

Water first thing in the morning

This pesky thing called “the Sun” has a nasty habit of causing water to evaporate. To minimize evaporation—and thus save water–give your garden a drink early in the day. You don’t want to water in the evenings if you can avoid it because you also don’t want your garden to remain too soggy for too long—it can encourage mildew to grow on your plants, among other problems

Keep runoff to a minimum

This seems like an obvious one, but think of all those times you’ve let water run off your lawn, into the gutter, and down to the storm drain. To cut down on wasted water, don’t turn the hose up to full blast if watering by hand. Instead, turn the water down and use a lower flow, which will allow the soil to absorb water more readily. If you use sprinklers, make your you position them so that they only water what needs to be watered and nothing more.

Place saucers under pots and planters

Another source of wasted water is runoff from pots and other containers. When possible, be sure to place a dish or saucer of some sort under your pots to catch the runoff and allow your plants to soak up this otherwise wasted water. Pie tins work well, as do plastic margarine tubs. Most nurseries also sell saucers that you can place under your pots. Just make sure you don’t overwater your potted plants: If you still see standing water the day after you watered your plants, you may be watering them too much.

Install a drip system

A drip irrigation is an effective, efficient way to water your garden: When done correctly, it’ll water only what needs to be watered, and it’ll do so at a low flow rate so your soil can absorb the water readily. This, of course, means less runoff. Yay! It also means you don’t have to wander around your back yard with an unwieldy garden hose that keeps getting kinked up.

Drip systems can be surprisingly simple to set up, too. You don’t need to dig trenches and bury pipes; all you need to do is lay the drip line in your garden according to the instructions that came with your drip system kit, and hook up an ordinary garden hose to your drip line. Still not convinced? Stay tuned for a future tutorial on how to set one up.

Consider a container garden

All right, maybe you’ve decided that, even with these tips, you just don’t want to bother with a garden this year. Fair enough. Maybe you’ll want to try a container garden instead: It’ll allow you to continue to have a garden to tend to, but one that’s much more contained. We’ll show you how to get started.

Got your own tips for gardening in a drought? Tweet them to us @makermouse.

Next Up...

Cricut is like a printer, except for your stenciled designs