Gardening in Dry Conditions

Story by Olivia Johns


Photos by Blue Grass Garden Centre

Summer 2024

It should come as no surprise to most gardeners that we are in for a dry growing season this year and possibly in years ahead. While this should cause some concern, it is just another prairie garden challenge that we can meet head-on. It seems inevitable that we will see water restrictions impact our gardening habits in Airdrie and Calgary and we should all do our part. Here are some proven strategies to keep your garden growing in dry conditions.

  1. A priority this year will be to conserve water and utilize our water resources carefully and efficiently. Install one or two rain barrels to catch Mother Nature’s offerings from your rooflines. Think outside the box of normal water-usage practices and save what you can, where you can.
  2. Amend your garden soil with organic matter, such as compost, manure or sea soil. Rich organic soil holds on to water longer than clay, sand or silt soils, allowing plants to utilize the moisture before it drains away. Also, apply mulch to your soil surface to prevent soil from drying out. It will also help maintain a cooler soil temperature and keep competitive weeds at bay.
  3. When watering your plants, prioritize watering for newly planted trees and shrubs, fruiting plants, and plants under stress. Concentrate watering at the roots, rather than overhead. Direct hand-watering, soaker hoses and spot-watering should become routine. When watering, water slowly and deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth. Water in the morning or evening to avoid losing water to evaporation midday.
  4. If you choose to add new plants this year, plant in the cooler months of May and June and again in the fall; avoid mid-summer planting, if possible. Also, consider planting in the cool of the morning or evening. Install shade structures or anything that will provide extra sun protection if needed. Your shade gardens may be your favourite corners of your yard this summer.
  5. Add perennial plants to your garden that tolerate dry conditions such as sedums, salvia, echinacea, lavender, penstemon, Perovskia (Russian sage), hardy roses and some ornamental grasses. Plant portulaca, gazania, cosmos and petunias for bright pops of annual colour. Note: even drought-tolerant plants do need a little extra care to get established. Check with your local garden centre for more drought-tolerant options.

Olivia Johns is a horticulturalist at Blue Grass Garden Centre.