CAPTION: Water conservation is critical during a drought. ATTRIBUTION: Christopher Craig (Flickr)

CAPTION: Water conservation is critical during a drought. ATTRIBUTION: Christopher Craig (Flickr)

Heat and humidity can take their toll on plants. California has recently experienced one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, which started with three consecutive years of below-average rainfall. Due to devastating conditions, crops are suffering and farmers are being forced to utilize reserve water instead of the runoff they usually obtain from snow caps. Since California grows between a third and half of the country’s fruits and vegetables, America is suffering as a whole. During a drought, water restrictions and conservation should be taken into consideration. Follow these tips for a successful and drought-tolerant garden.

Plant Your Garden in Sections

Not all plants require the same amount of water to thrive. Some plants, such as echinocactus grusoni, nassella tenuissima, and lavandula multifida, require little water to survive. Place these drought-tolerant plants in their own section of the garden. Remember that this section is a “low-watering zone” and requires less water than the rest of your garden, which can help conserve water.

Help Plants Retain Moisture

Add several inches of compost, organic matter, or other amendment to your soil at least twice a year to help retain moisture. These substances are designed to increase the soil’s water-holding capacity, which is essential during a drought. Compost is highly useful in gardens, as it gradually releases nutrients to plants throughout the growing season. A thin layer of compost spread over the surface of the soil can also help ward off plant disease.

Limit the Size of Your Garden

Choose an appropriate-size garden according to the number of people in your household. Think about how much food your family actually consumes from the garden. If you wasted food that you grew last year, you may want to consider downsizing your garden this year to prevent food and water waste. Only plant what you can eat and properly take care of during a drought.

Take Advantage of Cool, Wet Temperatures

Plant some crops earlier in the year to take advantage of the rain most areas get at this time as well as the slower evaporation rate during cooler weather. In many places, broccoli, lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, and onions can be planted in February, while beets, peppers, carrots, corn, and cucumbers can be planted as early as March. Planting from August through November can also help you take advantage of the cooler fall temperatures.

Water Plants on a Schedule

Watering plants on a schedule allows you to give your plants just the right amount of water they need without the risk of over-watering. Instead of watering small amounts frequently, water deeply but less frequently. Deeper watering is more efficient, as it better reaches the root systems of your plants. Also water early or late in the day, as this is when evaporation is at its slowest.

Invest in an Irrigation Timer

Use a programmable irrigation timer with a rain sensor in your garden to prevent wasting water by using your sprinkler system when it rains. These timers can be reset at various times during the year as the day length and temperatures change. Irrigation timers work in combination with your sprinkler system controller to determine whether or not enough rainfall has occurred to skip an irrigation cycle.