Vegetable Garden

10 Tips for looking after your vegetable garden in drought conditions

July 19, 2013

This is a blog post I never thought I’d be writing in Ireland! With talks of draught and heatwaves and temperatures reaching in excess of 27ºC which puts the country in a Status Yellow situation, our poor gardens are looking brown and withered. Last year the farmers were supplementing their livestock with feed due to constant rain, this year they’re starting to feed them nuts and grain to protect the grass. Climate change is playing havoc and we have to learn to adapt.

drought in gardenAs gardeners you might be wondering what you can do to protect your plants in the garden during these high temperatures. We’re not in a position to water as much as the garden requires – clean water is an exhaustible resource and there’s talk of these high temperatures continuing throughout the summer.

Many people on our island draw their water from wells and are already wondering how best to protect this precious resource as talk circulates of wells running dry. If you’re using a mains supply it pays to be cautious too as reservoir levels begin to dip. Under these conditions you might be asking yourself when is the best time to water plants? Should you mow your grass or be watering it? What else can you do to protect your garden from drought? 

Here’s my top 10 tips for helping you manage your garden during a heat wave.

1. Water in the evenings or mornings. The water will go straight to the roots of the plants and won’t evaporate. However, if a plant looks severely dehydrated, don’t wait, water it immediately.

2. Water deeply and infrequently using a watering can or hose pipe rather than little and often. When water is scarce young roots will search deep down into the soil, looking for reserves of moisture. If they’re only watered lightly and often they will send out shallow, surface roots that suffer in drought times.

3. Mulch the soil. Water the soil deeply and then cover with straw or compost which will  help seal in the water and prevent evaporation.

Weeds are competing for moisture the beans need

Weeds are competing for moisture the beans need

4. Weed. Weeds will compete for moisture so it’s important to keep your beds weed free and allow every last drop of water to reach the roots of your plants and not their competitors. Tip: wet the soil first before weeding, they’ll pull out much easier.

5. Glasshouses and polytunnels. If you have a greenhouse drape shading material over the roof and leave polytunnel doors open day and night.

6. Lawn Care. If your vegetable garden is surrounded by grass, stop cutting it and don’t water it. Lawns stop growing during drought conditions but it’s unlikely it will die. When it rains they’ll magically change colour to the emerald greens we’re more familiar with and bounce back to life. Longer lawns will shade the grass roots helping to retail moisture. If you can’t bear to look at a longer lawn, raise the blades on the mower and don’t scalp the grass.

7. Use Grey Water. If your garden is surrounded by established trees and shrubs, they shouldn’t need watering at all. However, if their leaves start to look droopy you could use your bath, sink or washing machine water, known as grey water. Don’t use grey water on fruit or vegetable plants or any water that’s been sitting around in your bath for longer than 24 hours as bacteria can build up are any water that contains bleach or strong detergents. There are grey water irrigation kits available to help you syphon it out of showers etc into buckets. In Ireland stock them online. Water recycling would be a good practice to get into given how precious this resource is and with water metering being introduced in Ireland in the future, now’s your chance to try it!

growing vegetables in containers8. Container gardening. If you’re growing vegetables in containers they’ll need watering every day during the drought. Once watered cover the soil with mulch or decorative gravel to prevent evaporation.

9. Group containers together which can create humid microclimates and place them in shadier places to keep them cooler.

10. Prepare for next year, who knows what weather we’ll experience. Dig in lots of compost in the autumn which will help with soil structure and install water butts. Here’s an old blog post that contains more tips for helping you to preserve your water supply.


  • Reply cathsveggies1 July 19, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Wow, great tips. In my adult lifetime I never have experienced temps this high. I water at night to give plants the advantage of at least 8 hours of soakage.I have not been able to go into the tunnels by day, but I stand at the door and soak the the pathways. I have plastic containers planted down towards my tomatoes roots, so they should be ok.It’s just we humans that need to look after ourselves and keep hydrated I think 😉

    • Reply greensideupveg July 19, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      Thanks Cathy! Yes, I use the plastic bottles for my tomatoes too – some good tips there and you’re dead right about staying hydrated!

      • Reply cathsveggies1 July 19, 2013 at 11:02 pm

        Don’t suppose the vino is included in hydration, but there is only so much water I can take, or I would be on the loo all night…lol!

        • Reply greensideupveg July 19, 2013 at 11:19 pm

          Hehee 🙂 I’ve taken to trying all my cordials with sparkly wine. Suddenly preserving got a whole lot more interesting!

        • Reply Pam July 21, 2013 at 3:47 pm

          “Water rusts your insides”, as my friend likes to caution! 🙂

  • Reply Secret Garden Brian (@_secretgarden_) July 21, 2013 at 11:07 am

    I agree with Cathy, we gardeners need hydration as well. Cold cider is helping here 🙂

    • Reply greensideupveg July 21, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      Sounds refreshing Brian though how hydrating it is not so sure!

  • Reply Pam July 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Great tips, Dee! On point 4 – Weeding – we find the opposite, that it’s easier to pull out the weak little weeds before watering. Excellent tip on the grey water usage! Thanks.

    • Reply greensideupveg July 21, 2013 at 6:21 pm

      Thanks Pam, I guess it’s like anything in gardening, whatever you’re happier with 🙂


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