These drought resistant vegetables (and fruit) are perfect for a garden and will thrive even through long, dry summers.
By July many gardeners are spending hours every week watering their gardens, desperate to keep their plants thriving through the intense heat. In drier parts of the country the water butts may be completely empty by now and we are relying entirely on fresh water – a precious resource. It’s small wonder that hose pipe bans are getting implemented more often, leaving our gardens to wither before our eyes.
How to reduce soil drying out
There are a few things that we can do as gardeners to protect our gardens from drying out. The first is to use the no dig method of gardening. This method relies on applying a layer of mulch to the surface of the soil and allowing the soil microbiology to incorporate the organic matter. The mulch acts as a moisture barrier, readily absorbing water, and helping to lock it in the soil.
Additionally, if we water less often and giving our plants slightly more water when we do so, this will encourage deep root growth. Watering first thing in the morning, preferably before the sun hits the ground is ideal, although not always possible.
Finally, we can choose plants that need less water. There are plenty of plants, including vegetables and flowers, that survive and thrive in very warm dry climates. These plants have special adaptations to help them lose less water through their leaves and grow in very dry soils.
Sweetcorn has anchoring roots and fibrous roots as such is able to penetrate into the ground to get water. When temperatures soar and water is scarce, they will roll their leaves. Whilst this is a sign of water stress, it is also an adaptation to protect the leaves from losing too much water.
See a video of Liz at Byther Farm harvesting sweetcorn.
Cavolo Nero or Tuscan kale is a great drought resistant crop. As the name suggests, it comes from the hot, dry region of Tuscany. It has a waxy cuticle on the leaves which protects them from losing too much water. The powdery, waxy, white substance on the leaves acts like a sunscreen and is a great adaptation to dry weather. They are also cold tolerant making them a great choice for cooler regions.
Beans will need watering to get them established, but once they get going there is very little that can stop them. Some varieties, such as Rattlesnake are more adapted to dry conditions and can survive on surprisingly little water. French beans do not thrive in cool conditions, so do not sow them too early for your area. They prefer 10C or more to grow and below this, they will not take up nutrients from the soil and struggle to grow. Not to worry, as soon as the temperatures rise again, the plants will continue to grow.
Sweet potatoes are best grown in warm climates, or under cover as they are not cold tolerant. They set long, delicate vines with beautiful purple flowers. Sweet potatoes are a tropical crop, adapted to life in very warm conditions. They also grow well on well-drained soils with little water.
Arugula or Rocket
Arugula or rocket are great drought resistant plants. As leafy crop, if they are exposed to long periods of drought, they will produce smaller leaves. However, they continue producing nonetheless, and the peppery taste will be more enhanced. Train your plants to grow deep roots by watering less often when establishing the plant.
Chickpeas are often associated with warm, dry regions, but they also grow here in the UK and are a great drought-tolerant crop. With their small leaves and large root system they are well adapted to drought conditions.
Chilli is another good drought-resistant crop. They are adapted for life in warm conditions and the warmer and drier they are the more spice they will produce. Chilli need water to get them established, and they are not cold-tolerant. They need a long growing season too, so you will have to offer them some protection in spring, particularly in colder regions.
When we think of olives we often think of the Mediterranean. That hot, dry climate where they thrive. Olives are very slow growing, so it’s worth trying to invest in an older tree if you can afford to do so. They make a beautiful addition to the garden and are extremely tolerant of drought once they are established.
Figs are a great crop for a warm, sheltered spot. Like Tuscan Kale they have a waxy cuticle on the leaves making them excellently adapted for life in warm, dry conditions. Fig trees can get very large, so it’s a good idea to choose a spot where they can spread or learn how to keep them manageable by training and pruning. Mature fig trees in the UK are surprisingly productive.
Like many of the crops on this list, Swiss Chard will need to be watered well at the start to get it established. Small Chard plants that are not well established do have a habit of bolting in warm weather. Mature plants whose root system is already well developed are surprisingly drought tolerant. They are also cold tolerant and produce crop (leaves and stems) year-round making them an excellent choice for cooler climates.
Growing drought resistant vegetables from seed
These plants may be drought tolerant, but if you are growing from seed, seedlings will need to be regularly watered. It’s important to ensure that they are well watered in for the first few weeks after planting out in the garden to make sure that the roots have a chance to establish themselves. As with all plants, if they are showing signs of distress, it is a good idea to give them some water if you can.
Select seeds to sow at an appropriate time for your garden to give them the best chance of success.