Drought Busters Respond With Many Good Ideas

Bonnie gardeners share their techniques and advice about how to deal with a drought. Don't let Mother Nature foil your plants—take control of your garden.

Learn to save and store water to make it through periods of drought, just like camels do in the desert.

Read these great ideas from some of your fellow Bonnie gardeners dealing with drought.

Plastic Mulch in Black, Green, or Red

I mulch the garden at spring planting with black, green, and red plastic mulch, depending on the plants I am transplanting, and then rely on drip irrigation buried beneath the plastic. The mulch warms the soil, stops weeds, and holds moisture. The drip system–run by an inexpensive timer–saves lots of water (up to 60 percent, I've read.)

Jim Bottom

Drops from the Air Conditioner

In addition to saving bathtub water, I attached a plastic pipe to the condensation outlet of my home air conditioner. I got a small garbage can and ran the pipe to the 5-gallon can, and I caught over 15 gallons a day. I filled milk jugs from the garbage can for watering.

Sybil Johnson

Birmingham, Alabama

More Drops from the Air Conditioner

I put a bucket under my air conditioner and then use this to water my plants and window boxes. I have one on my front porch (you cannot see it) and one in back of my house. It sure saves on water. I empty them about 4 times a day. NO WASTE in my household.

Barbie Swen

A Little Afternoon Shade

I planted my tomatoes in old 5-gallon paint buckets with holes drilled through for drainage. I placed the buckets (before filling with soil) in an area that would get afternoon shade. Placing them in close proximity to a hose or yard sprinkler is an even bigger help.

Susan Flutie

Jensen Beach, Florida

Intensive Gardening Techniques

Here in Albuquerque, a mile-high desert with caliche soil, we've had good success with intensive gardening–planting close together and giving proper water and nutrients. It saves space and water. We also collect rainwater from the roof gutters in recycled olive barrels. Our soil is amended with kitchen scraps, fall leaves, pine needles, and sand brought from the west side of the Rio Grande here in the city. The almost pure sand has volcanic rocks broken up in it and grows everything better!

In May we plant a garden with soaker hoses on a timer. The chiles are set 10 to 12 inches apart in rows 12 to 18 inches apart with a path between the rows. Tomatoes are planted with soaker hoses in 3 x 5-foot cages made from reinforcement wire. Cucumbers are planted in one long row on soaker hoses and grow up on wire fencing.

So far (in August) we've picked over 170 pounds of chiles and the plants are still producing. Some are over 5 feet tall on a 10 x 15-foot plot of ground.

We also grow cucumbers, tomatoes, pomegranates, figs, Bing cherry, dwarf apple, peach, apricot, semidwarf Haralson apple, and grapes on our 60 x 130-foot lot with our house and lawn.

Marilyn Daley

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Recycled Drums for Rain Water

I went to the water treatment plant that treats lake water to supply drinking water for the city and got five 55-gallon barrels that had held chemicals used in treating water. After cleaning them, I bored holes for faucets, linking the barrels together at overflow holes at each end. I hooked the barrels together and installed faucets and overflows using items available from the hardware store: 1 1/2-inch threaded plastic adaptors with metal conduit nuts (inserted through the bung holes inside the barrels) for the connectors and overflows. I re-routed the downspout to the first barrel. Because the bungs are still in the barrels, there are no mosquito problems. Saving the water off only half of my garage, I got 105 gallons after 1/4 inch of rain. A 1-inch rain brought overflow at each end and 250 gallons of saved water. Gravity flow through a regular hose provides a nice water flow to the base of plants, where the roots are, so no water is wasted on overspray. Plastic lattice around the barrels hides them.

Thomas Malcom

Collecting from Multiple Household Sources

  1. I have a 7-gallon pail in my shower to catch the cold water when I first turn on the shower.
  2. I use the bath water.
  3. I have a bucket under the outside air-conditioning vent.
  4. I collect cut grass from the neighbors and put it in my compost to turn into mulch and soil. Not too bad for a guy who was born in New York City.

Wesley Cornelius

Improving Hard Clay

When I was getting the soil ready (we have hard clay), I mixed about 140 pounds of sand in the clay. That seemed to hold the moisture so well that I didn't have to water but about once every week or two. We had very little rain. As you can tell, we had a cold night and it got to the leaves of the squash plant. The tomato is "Big Boy."

Harlan McGuire

Raised Beds and Soaker Hoses

We built a raised garden about 15 x 25 feet and installed soaker hoses in the beds. Even in October we were still bringing in between 15 and 20 pounds of tomatoes a day. Our plants are over 15 feet tall. We have strangers stop and want their photo taken next to these Giants. We have canned more tomatoes and cucumbers than we can count, along with supplying our friends and neighbors with as many as they want. The German Queens are really GREAT! Also, the grape tomatoes are all over the place. Take a look at these photos, and you will always buy Bonnie Plants.

William Copeland

Soaker Hose or Drip System

The best method for watering during a drought is a soaker or drip hose placed near the roots of the plants. The water is directed at the roots of the plants where it belongs, and there is less evaporation and less disease since the leaves are staying dry. Using this soaker or drip method takes less water, and you can simply keep the hose or drip tape on the ground all season. I have been using the same soaker hose now for 4 years with no troubles, and it is relatively cheap.

Greg Styers

Buckets in the Classroom Sink

Each classroom has a 1-gallon bucket in their classroom sink. As the students get drinks or wash their hands, they allow the excess water to go into the bucket instead of down the drain. The classes then use this water to water the trees and plants around our campus.

Laura LaPerna

Grass Clipping Mulch and Soaker Hose

I have about a 2000 square foot garden in Scotsboro, Alabama, and have had a bumper crop of everything this year (2007). I mulch liberally with grass clippings, plant pretty much as you recommended and put about 1 inch of water on my 33 tomato plants each week when it did not rain that much. I use a soaker hose for 2 hours on each row... My garden does not even know it is dry this year with the liberal amount of grass clippings and the soaker hoses I use! ...I have picked 30 to 50-plus pounds of tomatoes per week from my plants up until mid July when they started slowing down a little.

Jerry Tidwell, Scotsboro, Alabama

Leaves Leave the Water

I cover the ground with leaves. This will leave constant moisture. Every garden I've seen recently is all but burned up while mine is robust.

Rick Frye

Never Waste a Drop

I keep a gallon pitcher under my kitchen sink. While waiting for the hot water to travel through the pipes, I collect the cold water that comes out first. Then I let it sit several hours to let some of the chlorine evaporate. I use a basin to rinse dishes like my elders did and then use it to water plants. I also use water from our dehumidifier in the basement to water plants. If we have water in a bottle in the car that has gotten hot, we pour it on a plant as we enter the house.

Susan Stephenson