Gardening During a Drought

Lately I’ve been wondering if gardening is a frivolous activity.

Lower perennial garden

I’ve written previously about our garden and how we’ve made our denuded property not only look better with gardens, but it also has a lot more wildlife than we used to have, like snakes, butterflies, hummingbirds, etc. The garden looks even different than it did in that 2018 post I linked to above, as we’ve added a few more gardens up near the front of the house. We now have about 1000 ft2 of perennial garden and 350 ft2 of vegetable garden. Everything is watered by soaker hoses that we run for a set amount of time before turning them off to let the well recharge, then moving onto the next hose.

This spring we realized we had far less water in our well than we used to. It was a wakeup call to how we use water on our property.

We have low flow toilets and shower heads, and we have a high efficiency dishwasher and washing machine that we only run when we have a full load. We put the kiddie pool out for the dogs when it’s hot, then use it to water plants around the yard once they’re done with it.

But while you can limit your water use inside the house, our outdoor water use is not as flexible. Unless we want to see our gardens die, we have to water them to some extent. We have planted a lot of drought-tolerant plants, but they still need a year or two to establish themselves before they can do with less water, and last fall we did a complete reorganization of the garden so everything is settling into its new location this summer and needs water.  The vegetable garden, of course, needs water to keep producing vegetables.

This year has been particularly hard on the gardens because we’ve had a lot of warm winds, which means evapotranspiration has been going through the roof and a lot of plant leaves are getting a bit shrivelled. It’s not as though they don’t have enough water at their roots – it’s that too much water is being evaporated through their leaves, and there’s not much we can do about that. And now that August has come it’s hit us with temps in the low 30⁰C range, which also makes it hard to keep the garden going.

We’ve had summer droughts in each year we’ve lived here, and this year we had a winter drought followed by a summer drought. Is it silly to have gardens that need to be maintained in these conditions? Do the benefits of gardening (therapeutic, habitat, beauty, ecosystem-building) outweigh the costs (mostly water use). Especially if we have a well that’s not performing like it used to?

Sometimes I feel like we’re caught between a rock and a hard place. I think there are myriad benefits to gardening. But all of that pales in comparison to the basic need for water.

We aren’t planning on adding any more gardens – we’ve now reached “peak garden.” But I wonder about our ability to keep our existing gardens going if the climate continues the way it has, and the well water level continues to drop…

5 thoughts on “Gardening During a Drought”

  1. It’s hard gardening in limited limited rain fall areas. We have 3 summer months, June – September and 2 winter months December to February that are mostly rain free. This is our natural, normal rain free cycle, mini-droughts.
    I water slow and deep. Conserve moisture using deep mulching with mulch that compost/decomposes to enrich my soil and replenish this mulch as need during dry months.
    Happy Gardening

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  2. You might check out the possibilities for gray water reuse, Sarah. You can gain a lot of good water from drainage created from your shower, dishwasher and laundry. There are different methods of neutralizing or ridding yourself of the unwanted soap. In some places you can contract with someone to “hook you up” while in others it’s more of a do-it-yourself. You would probably want to check on local ordinances — but as climate changes, reuse is going to become an ever greater tool we all use. Best to you!

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    • This is a great idea, Margo. We reuse some water (usually kitchen water used for washing veggies or canning). We could also collect water in the shower while we wait for the water to get hot. But I hadn’t thought of other grey water systems – thanks for the tip!

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