Weather extremes – hot or cold – make it challenging to grow food. Don’t you agree? Severe conditions with intense heat and long periods of drought are especially tough to deal with.
Normally, January and February are our ‘wet’ rainy storm and cyclone season. On average, we’d have received about 360mm (14 in) by now. How much rain have we had here in subtropical SE Queensland, Australia over this time? In my garden, just 55mm (2in) all year!
On top of these unseasonally extreme dry conditions, we’ve had soaring temperatures since December. We’ve experienced the most 30°C+ (86°F) consecutive days for years. Today, it’s 40°C (104°F). Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to a forecast cooler day – just 33°C! Not to mention drying winds. Nice!
So, as a gardener, it’s essential to be flexible and learn to adapt to changing weather conditions. I’m no exception! We have to learn to accept we get too much or not enough sun or rain sometimes, and go with the flow of life. Plants adapt and we can too.
Growing a Food Garden in Hot Dry Conditions
During the heat, I focus on:
- keeping container gardens healthy;
- harvesting and maintaining current crops;
- giving special attention to stressed ‘plant patients’;
- watering or using drip irrigation for most of my kitchen garden; and
- mulching other garden beds until we get decent rain.
No point fighting nature!
In hot weather, it makes sense to garden early morning and late afternoon. I take a morning walk around the garden as soon as I get up and later when it’s cool before sunset. I check out my plants and see who needs my help the most!
I always put a lot of love into building healthy soil. I build in ‘insurance policies’ so when drought, heat or pest insects arrive in the garden, the majority of plants can shrug it all off.
Helping Plants Survive the Heat
I focus on my VIPs (Very Important Plants) like fruit trees and fruiting crops. I make sure these special plants and trees get what they need. Enough moisture, mulch, shade protection and liquid tonics.
Liquid seaweed and fish emulsion are quick fixes for most drought or water-stressed plants. If plants can’t take up sufficient moisture, they can’t access nutrients in the soil either. So they suffer a double whammy. They are not only thirsty, but hungry as well! Stressed plants are pest and disease magnets.
What can you do? I make up a diluted liquid seaweed/fish/mineral pick-me-up ‘tonic’ in a spray bottle and apply to the leaves early morning. The plants can take these nutrients up faster by leaves than the soil, but I also water in as well. Always apply mulch.
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“If you only have time to care for a few plants, make them your most valued ones. Those you can’t afford to lose or only have one of.” – Anne Gibson
The other VIPs in my garden are the wildlife – especially the pollinators and birds. I fill my bird baths daily so these hard working pest managers can feast on grasshoppers, caterpillars and other pest insects in the garden. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement! It also frees me up to focus on the important tasks rather than pest management. Sometimes I leave a few bugs in the bird bath so the next bathing bird enjoys a free protein snack and hangs around longer.
Next month, I’m hoping the temperatures might back off a bit. If we’re lucky, we’ll get some rain. Until then, it’s a good time to:
- maintain a journal;
- spend time planning next season’s crops;
- sow seeds and grow microgreens; and
- harvest what the garden can dish up, despite the harsh conditions.
There’ll be some plant casualties. Those poor souls who just didn’t get the moisture they needed and ended up ‘dried arrangements.’ Some will be scorched by sunburn or miss out on nutrients in the soil. Other plants will bolt to seed – at least you get some freebies. This is the school of hard knocks! The strongest survive and they’re the kind of characters you want more of in your garden.
If you’re trying to grow food in hot or dry conditions too, make a journal note of all the plants that ARE surviving or thriving. Make sure you take cuttings and save seeds from these tough guys so you have drought-resilient plants next season. Grow more of what grows well.
What about you? How’s your garden growing?
If you’re suffering from hot or dry conditions, maybe take a break. No garden is perfect and certainly no climate.
“Take pressure off yourself and find joy in the things you CAN achieve. Celebrate every harvest, no matter how small.” – Anne Gibson
If you need some help with growing in difficult conditions, consider a garden consultation for personalised advice. Please leave a comment and I’ll dish up some more tips very soon.
In the meantime, you may also enjoy 9 Strategies to Help Combat Common Edible Garden Problems. If you like this article, please share the love!
Happy gardening until next month. Anne