Grow Vegetables In Dry Climates

Yes, you can grow vegetables in dry climates or during droughts. Here is a list of the best vegetables to plant, as well as tips on how to keep things growing during dry conditions.

Xeriscaping is a fancy word for a method of landscaping in dry climates. In addition to employing water conservation techniques, it focuses on plant varieties that thrive in arid to semi-arid conditions. While xeriscapes tend to center on perennials, shrubs and trees, a xeriscape also can include a fair number of vegetables grown with attention to microclimates, gardening techniques and plant characteristics.

What is Dry Gardening?

Dry gardening, or dry farming as it is called for larger-scale growing, is the growing of crops during the dry season. Its goal is to water or irrigate as little as possible or not at all. Dry gardening uses methods such as deep mulching with straw to limit evaporation and targeted planting times that coincide with normal rainy periods, important when sowing seed or planting seedlings that require moisture in their establishment and growth periods. Targeted irrigation for both time of day and amount of water is crucial, too, to limit evaporation and make sure the plants are getting water within their root zone.

Watering can on the garden at sunset.

Plant traits play a large role in choosing what works best in dry gardening. Look for varieties that are labeled drought-tolerant or drought-resistant. Depending on the region, there may be native vegetable varieties best suited to not only the climate but the types of soils locally.

Maturity dates can also contribute to whether a vegetable will succeed in dry conditions. A plant that matures in 60 days is going to use less water than one that won’t produce for 90 days. But a short-season crop also may mean that the plant won’t be setting fruit during the driest periods, avoiding stress conditions that may lead to crop failure.

5 vegetables that can grow well in dry conditions

Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, soybeans (or soy nuts), and peanuts). Many legumes are drought-tolerant, but a couple of varieties from this family are perfectly suited for arid conditions. The cowpea, or black-eyed pea, is a native plant of Africa where it thrives in dry summers with the best harvest requiring both hot days and nights.

The teary bean will grow readily with minimal moisture once the root system is established

The tepary bean requires water to germinate but will grow readily with minimal moisture once the deep root systems of the plants are established. Tepary beans should be dried on the vine and used as a dry bean.

Tomatoes. A juicy tomato does not mean it requires a lot of moisture to achieve that status. Anyone who’s been growing tomatoes for a while realizes that too much water after the fruit sets leads to the fruit cracking and contributes to diseases. With proper care that includes mulching and targeted watering, tomatoes can do well in dry conditions as long as the plants receive adequate moisture through to fruit-set stage (the period when the plant flowers and the fruit begins to develop). Varieties for dry gardening include: Yellow Pear and Texas Wild Cherry and slicers such as Burbank and Caro Rich.

Eggplant. This tomato cousin frequently is described as drought-tolerant or drought-resistant. Once established, the plants do require fairly steady moisture to yield the best crop, but too much water can lead to crop failure. Ping Tung Long, an Asian style variety native to Taiwan, is productive in heat and drought conditions, often setting more than a dozen 18-inch long fruit per plant.

Eggplants are drought-tolerant.

Okra: This staple of southern cuisine regularly is found listed as a vegetable to grow in dry conditions. One particular variety is a Texas heirloom that was found growing wild on a farm. Beck’s Big Buck or Beck’s Gardenville okra is a plant that likes the heat and sets fruit over several weeks.

Chard. Swiss chard is surprisingly robust in not only dry conditions but also heat. Chard requires steady moisture to sprout and get its roots established, but once it does, it performs well with minimal water and plenty of warmth. Fordhook Giant, a Burpee-bred classic variety, is a good candidate for dry gardening and can be harvested over long periods if the outer leaves are picked and the inner leaves and roots are left undisturbed.

Swiss chard in vegetable garden.

Let us know if you plant any of these varieties and how they did. Here are some watering tips for ways to conserve water yet keep your garden growing that may also help keep your garden flourishing.

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Janine Pineo

Janine Pineo has been gardening all her life in Maine and writing about it for more than two decades. More of her writing can be found on her website, GardenMaine.com.

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Kelly

Thanks so much for the article. I live in a high dessert (zone 5). I agree straw is a must! Tomato varieties that do well here are cherry and sauce. Specifically sun gold cherry and Roma’s. Swiss chard does great, being able to roll with all the punches a dry climate throw at it. I also find root crops like potatoes, carrots and garlic do really well here in raised beds of course. Peppers do well but they should be hot. Hot thai, bird peppers, little chili’s do great. Dry beans do the best in our climate, for example pintos and black beans. I also had a mix dry or yet bean do well called a cranberry bean.

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