If you’ve ever planted a garden or attempted to grow a crop, you know how challenging it can be to keep plants productive when dry weather arrives. When the rain gives way to seemingly endless weeks of sun and heat, their growth rate slows dramatically and, despite your efforts to keep them moist, the plants can suffer severely from lack of moisture.
Fortunately, you can use several techniques to protect your soil and plants during a drought. Here are a few ideas to help get you started.
1. Mulch Your Soil
Mulching around your plants can help a great deal in retaining soil moisture. During a drought, dry air can sap your soil of moisture through evaporation, but mulch can act as a barrier. In fact, mulching can reduce moisture loss through evaporation by as much as 50 to 75 percent, making it an extremely valuable tool.
If your soil gets too hot, taking in water can become a challenge for plant roots, causing even more moisture loss. Mulching helps minimize this issue by protecting your soil from the sun, thus lowering the temperature.
2. Encourage Earthworms
Even if your garden isn’t currently suffering from drought, earthworms are highly beneficial. The tunnels they create in the soil help aerate it and allow rainwater to penetrate deeper into the ground. In addition, earthworms enrich the nutrient levels in your soil by adding phosphorus and potassium. Encouraging earthworms now helps prepare your soil in the event of a drought.
The easiest way to invite earthworms into your garden is to provide food for them. Organic material, such as mulch, compost or even the remains of last year’s plants, can encourage earthworm activity.
3. Stop Tilling
You know that back-breaking activity you undertake every spring, turning over the soil in your garden to eliminate weeds and prepare the ground for a fresh new crop of plants? Well, as beneficial as tilling seems to be, it’s actually one of the worst things you can do for your soil in times of drought.
Although tilling your soil may appear to make your soil loose and fluffy (and it does, to some degree), it also degrades your soil in ways that make water absorption more difficult. It breaks up the soil tunnels created by earthworms, eliminating these water-carrying channels from your soil, and it also causes a coating of tiny particles to develop over your soil, which can inhibit water from easily penetrating the ground and eventually lead to run-off.
While tilled soil may be easy to work with, the loosening of the soil can actually lead to increased moisture evaporation, so weather the dry spells by giving up your annual tilling procedures.
4. Plant Cover Crops
Planting cover crops—plants that “cover” your soil at times when regular crops or plants aren’t growing—can be a great way to protect soil during drought. Cover crops offer some of the same benefits as mulch, including lowered soil temperatures and reduced evaporation, while also minimizing soil erosion and increasing nutrients in the soil to be used by other plants.
You can choose from many cover crops, including annual ryegrass, red clover and buckwheat. When the time comes to plant your spring crops, mow down your cover crops with a lightweight mower or weed-eater (heavy machinery isn’t good for soil either!) and use the remains of the cover crops as mulch.
While droughts may still be a challenge, the above methods for nourishing your soil during droughts should greatly aid in your quest to produce healthy plants and crops, so the next time dry weather hits, you’ll be ready!
Improve your soil even more with this help from HobbyFarms.com:
- 6 Soil Problems and Amendments to Fix Them
- Foliar Feed Vs. Soil Amendment: Which Fertilizer Is Better?
- 7 Steps to Healthier Soil
- How to Read Your Soil Test
- Why Is Soil Great for Plants? The Answer Isn’t As Obvious As You’d Think