If you’re like me, you’re a bit annoyed that we haven’t had much rain to help with the watering this summer. I live in the Northeast, where we’re lucky enough to get just enough rain that we’re not quite in drought conditions. Nonetheless, it’s been dry, and if you’ve got a vegetable garden, you’ve probably spent quite a bit of time soaking it down.
Here are a couple of pointers that might help you survive dry spells with your garden intact:
- Water deeper, not more often: While watering every day might seem like the smartest thing to do during a dry spell, you might not want to be that consistent with your plants. In the hottest parts of the summer, plants rely on moisture that’s hidden several inches under the ground. That moisture is only restocked by a heavy rainfall (or, failing that, a long, soaking watering session). While a quick soak every day might help the leaves of your plants from wilting, consider alternating heavy and light watering to replenish some of your ground water and to keep you deep-rooted vegetables going.
- Mulch if you can: Some vegetables, like squash, need to be able to contact as much soil as possible. Plants that grow vertically, though — anything from beans and peas to tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and even greens — benefit from some sort of mulch to protect the soil. It helps to hold moisture, can prevent the growth of weeds that suck up scarce water, and further keeps your soil from drying out by absorbing heat and keeping the temperature low. Buy mulch, or pile on clippings from your yard. (I’ve been using lawn clippings to mulch this year, and it looks surprisingly good).
- Check your pH: Alkaline soil can be chalky, and it has a hard time holding water. Check your pH with a kit from your local hardware store or garden store, and if your readings are too basic, go back to the store and ask for a recommendation on a product to acidify the soil. (Aluminum sulfate and sulfur are two popular options; they can burn plants if you use them incorrectly, so make sure you ask an employee exactly how to use them).
- Be the early bird: Watering early in the day can help to ensure the maximum amount of water soaks into your soil, because that’s when the soil temperature is lowest. If you don’t want to wake up at dawn, consider an automatic sprinkler system that waters the garden automatically while you hit the snooze button.
- Rain in the forecast? Water anyway: This might sound counter-intuitive, but after a long dry spell, your soil can be so hardened that water will run off it instead of soaking in. To prevent this, water lightly on the day that rain is forecast. That way, you’ll get the maximum benefit from the rain you do receive.
- Ignore the lawn: If rain is scarce, water is scarce, and you’re already using a lot on your garden. Don’t be greedy and soak the lawn too — it’s bad karma. Let the lawn go brown, and next year, consider reseeding with a low-water blend of grass.