Gardening on dry soil becomes almost impossible if you don’t have the proper experience and if you don’t prepare in advance. The absence of moisture can foil your gardening plans and leave you struggling with parched soils. The following suggestions are a must when gardening on dry soil.
Some gardeners have a saying which goes a little like this: “pick the right plant for the right spot”. It’s easily understandable that growing moisture loving plants on dry soil will not work. Not unless you have a huge water reserve that you can spare.
Growing drought resistant plants seems like the smart way to go, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. Besides selecting the appropriate plants, there are a few other steps needed for gardening on dry soil. Weather your soil is sand, gravel, chalk or clay-based, there’s always a solution to have lush foliage.
Improving your garden soil is another piece of the puzzle and seeing that almost all of us are now vulnerable to periods of summer drought, this step requires proper care. You don’t have to be an expert gardener to put all the pieces together, you just need to keep on reading and follow through.
Clever tips for gardening on dry soil:
1. Add organic matter when gardening on dry soil
A bountiful garden requires well-tended soil and this is one of the golden rules of gardening. Before planting in dry soil, it’s important to dig in a generous amount of organic matter. Compost works best and it’s highly recommended when creating an entire bed or overhauling one. Most gardeners recommend going with deep digging to ensure the growing of a large variety of plants.
Compost breaks up dense dry soil such as clay and it provides good aeration. This allows the roots to move freely and grow stronger. Another advantage of compost is adding bulk to dry sandy soils and it keeps plant nutrients from being washed away. The following article will teach you about alternative soil conditioners.
Related article: Alternative soil conditioners for organic gardening
2. Select drought tolerant plants
When you’re gardening on dry soil, you have to be strict about your plant choices. You should pick only those that thrive in drought, regardless if you plant vegetables or decorative plants. In general, most drought resistant vegetables need short days to maturity. There are many varieties which need less water to develop and provide a good crop.
Here is a list with the plants my family tried over the years:
- Sweet potato
- Swiss chard
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Iroquois cantaloupe
- Eggplants (miniature varieties)
- Moth bean
- Tepary bean
- Black-eyed pea
- Lima bean (Jackson wonder)
- Corn (Black Aztec and Hopi Pink varieties
There are other types of drought resistant vegetables and you need to research about the ones popular in your region. If you plan on growing plants on dry soil, start first by checking what others are growing in your region.
3. Add mulch for moisture
Depending on the size of your garden, you could add a layer of mulch to it. This will help trap moisture, keep the roots of the plant cool and prevent weeds. It also allows you to walk around your beds with ease without stepping on plants.
Gravel works best for dry zones, but there are also those who add straw or chipped bark. The main advantage of gravel is that it won’t allow plants to rot since it doesn’t soak up moisture. It’s also aesthetically-pleasing for decorative gardens.
4. Plant properly
When gardening on dry soil, planting becomes an important step. You need to pick young plants and stay away from mature shrubs, trees and perennials. They may struggle to establish and you will end up losing money.
Is also crucial to plant at the correct time so make sure you sow the seeds earlier in the spring to jump start the growing season. Another thing to keep in mind is to plant later in the fall to minimize the use of irrigation and take advantage of seasonal rains.
The planting pattern is also important and you can plant in groupings or hexagonal offset patterns. This will help shade the ground and it will keep the soil cooler by preventing evaporation. When planting in groupings, companion planting is recommended as it will help you group crops that help each other thrive.
The first pioneers learned about this from the Native Americans and they soon adopted their “three sisters method”. They used to plant corn, beans and squash together when gardening on dry soil. If you want to read more about the other lost ways of the pioneers, check this book out!
5. Water properly and water well
This is another topic that is somehow underrated when it comes to gardening and few people actually cover it to its full extent. Watering is a crucial step for those gardening on dry soil and is an important task even for the average gardener.
As a rule of thumb, always water early or late in the day because moisture will evaporate quickly from the soil in midday heat. It’s also important how the watering takes place and how deep it goes. There are various irrigation systems that can help you do a proper job. Plants require long sporadic watering to encourage deep root growth.
Related article: Learn how to water your garden wisely
A drip irrigation system will do wonders for your garden, but there are also old techniques that still work today. As a quick example, the olla is a simple low-cost solution to water your garden.
The Olla is an ancient technology that can be described simply as a clay pot. I’ve used it for container gardening and I can tell you it works great. The clay pot is buried in the soil next to the plans you want to irrigate. To water your plants, you simply add water to the pot and it does all the job for you. The clay pot is designed to slowly release the water to the plant roots over time.
To put it to use, bury the pot next to the plants you want to water and cap it with a fitted cap or a stone to prevent mosquitoes from using it. After that, you just need to keep it filled.
Although it is true that gardening on dry soil is challenging for beginners and inexperienced gardeners, there is still hope. Making the right preparations before planting is half the job and one needs to follow these simple rules to succeed. You can enjoy gorgeous gardens as long as you keep in mind to improve the soil, plant properly and water wisely. Anybody who gardens on dry soil will confirm all the above and understands why preparation is key to success when gardening on dry soil.
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