Is your vegetable garden climate-resilient? If you want to keep your green thumb in the age of climate change, it may be time to tweak your gardening strategy. Extreme heat and droughts are becoming more prevalent. “It’s no longer gardening or seasons as usual with our changing, more erratic climate,” notes Kim Stoddart, award-winning environmental journalist, editor, and co-author of The Climate Change Garden with Sally Morgan.
She suggests creating a climate change savvy garden to adapt and be more resilient. If not, gardens are at greater risk for pests, disease, and damage from extreme weather, not to mention the stress gardeners experience trying to mitigate these new challenges.
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The Need for Climate-Resilient Gardening
As climate change triggers more extreme weather like heat waves, drought, hail, strong winds, and heavy downpours, plants will inevitably struggle. As Stoddart and Morgan discuss in their book, increasing extreme weather variables are happening within a short space of time, making it difficult for garden plants to cope. “It takes a resilient plant to survive all that nature throws at it, and in a climate-changed world, it’s not just the long-term rise in temperatures but also the extreme weather events that are so disruptive for plants,” they write.
A climate-resilient garden can both endure and recover from extreme weather conditions. Gardeners have several ways to cope with high temperatures and drought, explains Amber Noyes, horticulturist and editor at Gardening Chores. One way is to choose plants that can thrive in these conditions. For example, plants originating in tropical or sub-tropical regions tend to tolerate heat better than those from a colder, northern climate. Gardeners can also adapt their practices to the changing climate, for example, by altering planting schedules and employing water-efficient irrigation methods.
How To Find Heat- and Drought-Tolerant Crops
Fortunately, certain plants can tolerate the heat and grow in low-moisture soil. Look for seed descriptions that state “heat-loving” or “heat-tolerant” and “drought-tolerant” vegetables. These varieties have been field-tested and shown to perform well in warmer, dryer conditions.
Stoddard and Morgan recommend perennial vegetables, which live more than two years, since their longevity enables them to survive challenging environmental conditions. In addition, their deep root structure helps them obtain moisture more effectively during dry periods and absorb excess rainwater during storms.
There are even some plant varieties that are specifically bred to withstand high temperatures. According to Alvin Pullins, a home improvement and environmental specialist at Nerd In The House, “These varieties have adaptations that help them cope with heat stress and require less water.”
10 Common Heat- and Drought-Tolerant Vegetables for Your Garden
Chickpeas, lentils, butter beans, yard-long beans (also called asparagus beans), black-eyed peas, cream peas, and purple hulls thrive in hot conditions.
Because of their deep roots, beets can be sown early to take advantage of the longer growing season. In addition, beets can withstand hot days when provided with plenty of water.
Although carrots are slow-growing vegetables that need sufficient watering, they can still do well even during the hottest days. Avoid juicy varieties such as Nantes because they have less fibrous roots, which means the roots are more likely to split in dry conditions.
Native to southeast Asia and India, eggplants are heat-tolerant vegetables that require minimal watering once established. They grow successfully in warm climates with full sun exposure. Stick to varieties like Black Beauty, Thai Long Green, Blackbell Classic, Midnight, and Florida Hi Bush.
Native to tropical Africa, okra prospers in hot climates with soil temperatures at 80 degrees Fahrenheit and above. Okra should be watered and picked regularly. It is not frost tolerant, so plant seeds after the spring frost has passed. Some good varieties to try include Clemson Spineless, Cajun Delight, Emerald, and Burgundy.
Originating in Central and South America, peppers are a tropical crop that does well in the heat. Peppers require warm soil to germinate, at about 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant sweet pepper varieties like Hungarian peppers, Shishitos, elongated Italian sweet peppers, Sweet Banana, Gypsy, and Pimento that thrive in the heat. Hot peppers, such as Anaheim, Jalapeno, Cal Wonder, Red Knight, Big Bertha, Sweet Banana, and Cubanelle, do even better in prolonged heat.
Between originating in the Andes and growing in the ground, potatoes are more tolerant of dry summers than many other vegetables. There is a wide choice of varieties; look for the more resilient types that mature slowly and can be harvested in autumn after they have time to recover from a drought.
Sweet potatoes are another tropical plant that grows well in the heat. They require a long growing season, regular and abundant watering, and to be harvested before the soil temperatures drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
While many types of greens will turn bitter in hot weather, Swiss chard is quite tolerant of hot, dry conditions. Experiment with multiple varieties including the colorful Rainbow chard.
As one of the most popular garden vegetables, tomatoes are native to the tropics of South America and are generally adaptable to varying climates including hot weather. However, extreme heat may prevent the flowers from producing fruit. They do best in up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Look for drought-resistant varieties including Roma, San Marzano, and Black Krim. Sungold and Jasper cherry tomatoes are recommended for hot weather. Finally, some heirlooms also do well in the heat, such as Arkansas Traveler and Brandywine. Learn how to grow bountiful tomatoes.
Tips for Growing Vegetables in a Climate-Resilient Garden
In addition to choosing crops known to withstand hot, dry conditions, you can take the following steps to create a climate-resilient garden in your backyard.
Adopt a No-Till Practice
Tilling, the process of turning over the soil to loosen it, disrupts microorganisms that are vital for soil and plant health and breaks up the soil structure, which is what helps it hold water. A no-till garden relies on regular mulching with organic matter. The mulch suppresses weeds, retains moisture, and enriches the soil as it decomposes.
Exposure to intense sunlight can damage plants, so make use of the natural shade cover in your yard. You can also create shade with tall crops and structures like pergolas, shade cloths, or trellises to reduce direct sunlight exposure and evaporation, Pullins suggests.
Stoddart recommends switching up your schedule to sow and plant earlier in the season. This way, plants will become established before the onset of hot weather and dry soil. If you wait too long, the crops are more likely to fail in the heat.
Minimize Water Waste
Use ground covers and mulch to help improve water retention in the soil. “Try to avoid bare ground, as this is more vulnerable to the drying impact of the sun,” cautions Stoddart. “Then after a deep watering, an application of mulch around plants can help keep water in. This works well just before a drought, especially for water-hungry plants.” Effective mulch materials include compost, straw, leaf mold, wood chips, grass clippings, and comfrey.
Use Smart Watering Techniques
“Try to avoid watering your plants in the middle of the day,” advises Noyes. “Evening is usually the best time. If you really must water in the morning, keep it as a once-in-a-while thing, not your everyday routine.” Be sure to water at the base of the plants where they need it most, as opposed to watering directly on the leaves or stems. Pullins suggests watering plants deeply and less frequently to minimize water usage and promote deep root growth. This helps plants access moisture from lower soil layers and makes them more resilient during dry spells. Finally, if you are using traditional irrigation, switch to drip irrigation to save water.