Drought Gardening: Planning a Fall Garden

Drought Gardening: Planning a Fall Garden

The Brazos River basin has been in 100% drought conditions for the last 9 weeks. Therefore, water conservation during drought conditions is imperative. However, that does not mean you can’t plant a fall garden; it simply requires a different approach and a little bit of planning. 

October and November bring cooler nights and less scorching temperatures during the day. A fall garden can be planted in late September or early October and even in drought conditions. 

Preparing the soil with several inches of mulch helps trap moisture around plant roots. It keeps the roots of plants cool and protected from the heat of the sun, said Tiffany Davis, a blogger for Imperfectly Happy Home

Davis recommends researching your garden zone before planting. Choose plants that will most likely grow well in your location. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes a Plant Hardiness Zone map. It shows that Texas falls into zones 6, 7, 8 and 9. These planting zones are only a guide, not an absolute.

Zone 6: The coolest of Texas’ hardiness zones covers the northern Panhandle. 

Zone 7: Covering much of West Texas north of Big Bend, this zone stretches all the way to the Red River.

Zone 8: This zone covers most of the middle portion of the state, including Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston.

Zone 9: The hottest area with the longest fall growing season, this southernmost zone covers much of the state south of San Antonio, toward the Rio Grande Valley and the Gulf Coast. 

Knowing your garden's zone will help you determine the types of fruits, vegetables, and even landscaping that will thrive in your area. 

In their Sustainable Austin Blog, the city of Austin advises Texans to choose vegetables that are considered cool weather crops. Broccoli, greens, squash, peas, beans, and root vegetables, like beets, green onions, and turnips do well in fall gardens. Another not-so-obvious choice is the tomato plant. Tomatoes can suffer in the brutal Texas summer sun but tend to flourish during the fall. For best results, plant your tomatoes in containers so that you can move them into the garage or house during cold weather.

Bonnie Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist says, “Conserving water is not only a matter of keeping your utility bill down but has become a matter of urgency and necessity. Knowing how to garden in a drought will protect your existing plants and can help you grow food crops in low moisture conditions.

Gardening without water or in minimized conditions can be challenging. By following a few simple tips, you can still have a beautiful garden without irresponsible waste and high utility bills.

  • Do start with good soil. Work in compost every year to give it some extra nutrition and to help retain moisture.
  • Do use rainwater. Set up a rain barrel to capture any rainfall from eaves troughs to use for watering.
  • Do pull out the weeds. It’s especially important during a drought because weeds roots can steal valuable moisture from the soil.
  • Do help pollinators. Add a small bowl of water in shaded parts of the garden with rocks to allow beneficial insects and pollinators to rest while getting a sip of water.
  • Don’t plant during peak drought. These plants will need more regular watering to become established.
  • Don’t fertilize your garden during an active drought. Fertilizing encourages your garden to grow, which requires water.
  •  Don't feel the need to over-mulch all your plants. It does help keep the soil at an even temperature through the winter and helps to retain moisture, but it is only really necessary for your delicate plants.

Grant stresses that proper soil is crucial to gardening without water. Soil with plenty of organic matter incorporated will hold moisture better than gritty, porous soils or clay compositions that allow little of the water to penetrate to plant roots. 
Drought tolerant vegetables that work well in Texas are: 

  • Lima beans
  • Corn
  • Cowpeas, black-eyed peas and field peas
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Sunflowers
  • Heatwave II tomatoes
  • Black Diamond watermelon
  • Most herbs

Grouping similar vegetables together will help when watering since different vegetables have different water requirements. It’s easier to conserve water by grouping vegetables in your drought-tolerant garden according to their watering needs. 

  • High water need: Pumpkins, onions, peppers, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, eggplant, potatoes and corn
  • Moderate water need: Beans, cantaloupe, asparagus and cowpeas
  • Low water need: Herbs, mustard greens, spinach, turnip, watermelon, lettuce and radishes

Developing a drought-tolerant garden plan in this manner gives vegetables an added boost because they won’t be stressed from overwatering or underwatering.

With the right plants, proper tools and a solid planting strategy, you can have a successful drought tolerant garden and a successful harvest.