Yes, we are here!

At MOTHER EARTH GARDENER and MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we have been educating folks about the benefits of self-reliance for 50 years. That includes researching and sourcing the best books and products to help individuals master the skills they need in times like these and beyond. Our online store is open and we are here to answer any questions you might have. Our customer service staff is available Monday through Friday from 8a.m.-5p.m. CDT. We can be reached at 1-800-456-5835 or by email. Stay safe!

Growing a Drought-Tolerant Garden

These six strategies, along with dozens of recommended short-season cultivars, will keep your garden thriving as the climate heats up.

| Winter 2017-2018

  • ‘Rouge d’Alger’ cardoon
    Photo by
  • ‘Gaspé Flint’ corn, a fast-growing cultivar that stands only 2 feet tall and produces 4-inch ears.
    Photo by
  • ‘Purple Hull Pinkeye’ cowpea
    Photo by
  • 'Turkish Orange' eggplant
    Photo by
  • 'Christmas' lima beans
    Photo by
  • Mixing crop varieties helps develop resilience amid climate uncertainty. Saving seed from your best plants creates crops well-suited to your location.
    Photo by Jean English/Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc.
  • 'Japanese Giant Red' mustard greens
    Photo by
  • 'Burgundy' okra
    Photo by
  • Since 1990, USDA Hardiness Zones, based on average minimum winter temperatures, have shifted north because of global warming. Pink areas indicate a shift of one zone; red areas, two zones.
    Photo by Arbor Day Foundation

If we’ve learned anything as food growers in recent decades, it’s that climate change has placed not just one but many kinds of stress on our gardens and farms. “Global warming” does not adequately describe the “new normal,” given that many agricultural regions and farms have suffered from a variety of catastrophic floods, freezes, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, grasshopper infestations, and crop diseases over the past few years.

The big, paradoxical question confronting many farmers and gardeners is: How do we adapt to and plan for uncertainty? While such a question may initially seem unanswerable, farmers from all parts of the world have responded to climate uncertainty over many centuries through better crop selection and strategies to mitigate the worst effects of sun and wind.

To best adapt, we need thousands of different annual crop varieties evolving in fields and undergoing evaluation in continually changing climatic conditions, as well as responding to pressures from novel strains of diseases, garden pests, and weeds. But just how do we determine and select which annual crops’ seeds are most likely to help us cope with the drought, heat waves, severe storms, and other climatic disasters we face?

Learn From Desert Plants

As a Southwest gardener and orchardist already facing hot, dry conditions, I try to take tips from the native desert wildflowers growing around me. They’ve convinced me that there’s more than one way to approach a drought. While most seed catalogs interchange the terms “drought tolerance” and “drought resistance,” these terms are often used imprecisely to describe a whole suite of desert-plant adaptations. Drought-resistant perennials include jujube, loquat, macadamia nut, mulberry, persimmon, and pomegranate. True drought tolerance is a characteristic of deep-rooted, desert-hardy trees  —  such as carob trees and date palms  —  that can survive months without rain by extending their roots down and tapping into underground aquifers.

In the interest of precision, I propose one more category. Many herbaceous annual and perennial crops function as drought evaders in that they circumvent drought. They begin their life cycle with the onset of rains intense enough to trigger germination, and then complete the cycle before the brief wet season is over. They largely avoid desiccation and drought stress by ripening their fruit and dispersing their seeds well before severe soil and water deficits recur, so they never truly experience extended drought. Many early-maturing, short-season vegetables and grains employ these drought-dodging strategies.

Short-season crops have exceptional value in an era of water shortages and climate uncertainty because, after it’s transplanted in a field, a crop that matures in 60 days rather than 90 may require 20 to 25 percent less irrigation than its late-blooming counterpart, thus conserving water and energy.

Become a Preferred Subscriber and start enjoying the benefits today!

Fall in love with the flavor, versatility, and beauty of Mother Earth Gardener

Mother Earth GardenerDelight your taste buds, mind and eyes with beautiful photos and inspirational techniques on everything you need to know to grow, preserve and cook your own heirloom fruits and vegetables. You won’t want to miss the stories about plants passed down from generation to generation.

Don’t miss a single issue of Mother Earth Gardener. Published by the editors of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Mother Earth Gardener provides decades of organic gardening experience from the most trusted voices in the field. Join today and save off the newsstand price! Get one year (4 issues) for only $24.95! (USA only)

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube

click me