Gardening In A Drought… Can It Be Done?

A drought can be a gardener’s worst nightmare, and if you live in California you’re all too familiar with the challenges that these extreme periods of heat, and no rain, can bring. Constant restrictions in the Los Angeles area have limited residents to outdoor watering one day per week — that’s going to make for a whole lot of thirsty plants!

KGP Water Conservation Blog

When it comes to drought, retaining moisture is the ultimate rainmaker solution. Here’s what you can do to help your garden retain moisture.


  • Do compost – Work compost into the soil to help your soil retain moisture and give it extra nutrition. Think of it like cucumber slices on your eyes; it hydrates the surrounding tissues. 
  • Do protect with mulch – Adding mulch reduces evaporation and creates a healthier temperature for plant roots during hot summers. The winter equivalent of a Polar plunge – it helps regulate body temperature! 
  • Do plant more drought-tolerant plants – Native plants tend to acclimate better in drought conditions. They are also a crucial source of food and shelter for pollinators. 
  • Do prioritize plants with seniority – Existing plant root systems are more established under the soil and require less water than newly planted plants. Always respect your elders! 
  • Do help pollinators – Add a small bowl of water in a shaded part of your garden to allow good insects and pollinators to get a sip of water. 
  • Do groom your plants – Cut away dead flowers and leaves in a drought to help conserve energy. Think putting your hair in a ponytail or wearing a sunhat on a really hot day. 
  • Do consider an in-ground soaker hose – This method of watering delivers moisture directly to the roots where it is needed most. Watering from above ground such as with a hose encourages evaporation. 
  • Do pull out weeds – This is even more important during a drought because the roots of weeds can steal much-needed moisture from the soil.  
  • Do water before 10 am – Watering early helps reduce evaporation and prevents leaf scorching from water droplets in the sun.  The early bird gets the worm, or in this case, the water! 
  • Do use rainwater – As long as it’s legal in your state, set up a rain barrel to capture any rainfall from eavestroughs and use it for watering.
  • Do direct wateringFor a plant that needs more water, try sticking a water bottle with the base cutout into the soil near the plant and water through the top of the bottle. This channel’s the water specifically to that plant’s root system.
  • Do prepare for subsequent years – Prepare for future potential droughts by working compost into your soil in the fall and planting specific drought-tolerant native shrubs, plants, and wildflowers. 

Hopefully, by now it is clear that the principal strategy during a drought is to get the water into the ground. Once in the ground, the goal is to hold it there and keep it in the soil for as long as possible. While we hope you don’t ever have to implement any of these “to-do’s” in the case of a drought, we do hope that our suggestions may help alleviate any added stress should you ever experience a dry-spell.

Like with anything when it comes to gardening, if you plan, prepare and maintain your garden you should be in a good position to handle any weather that comes your way — from extreme heat to extreme cold and everything in between! 

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