There are three essentials for all plant growing – light, nutrients and moisture. There are also ways to help your garden grow a good crop in less than ideal conditions, and the heat and drought may mean you’re considering scaling back your vegetable garden, but don’t abandon your growing plans. By choosing drought tolerant vegetables and developing a good scheme, you can still grow some veggies without sending water usage soaring.

Planting and planting time

Buy young plants instead of seeds, which will shorten your own growing time, and your local nursery or market may offer an array of drought tolerant vegetables that already have a head start on growing – this way you can save a month or two of watering.

If you choose a vegetable that’s known for quick maturity, like zucchini (which takes 60 days from seed to fruit), you’ll have a harvest within a month of planting.

If you must plant from seeds, choose vegetables that go from seed to harvest in a short time, like radishes, which can be harvested in under 30 days.

Look for drought-resistant varieties of plants and seeds. Plant ‘bush’ cultivars of vegetables, such as peppers - they will save on space, require less water and give you higher yields. Varieties from our Mediterranean area are prized for being drought tolerant.

Plant water-efficient edibles, like asparagus, chard, eggplant, kale, and Roma tomatoes. Consider planting less too, that way you won’t have to water so often or over-produce and waste your crops.

Enclosed space

A fenced area may offer shade or shield wind, and raised beds with a solid base covered in a layer of mulch could be a way to reduce water evaporation, with drainage holes in the sides a couple of inches above the base to prevent so much water draining away.

Try ‘block’ planting, where you have plants or seeds in a grid pattern instead of in rows, or even in a hexagonal pattern, making watering more efficient.

A novel alternative is ‘The Three Sisters’ form of planting - you plant corn, beans and squash in the same ‘hill’. The corn provides the structure for beans to climb, the beans give the soil nitrogen, and the squash will provide the ground cover to cool the soil. Another way to achieve your goal!

Watering times

Don’t water during the heat of the day, but early in the morning. Water will soak into the ground, and if plant foliage gets wet, it will dry off, helping to avoid diseases.

Watering during the early evening is the second best but be prepared - you are promoting conditions for fungal diseases and snails!

Water efficiently – try a soaker hose, which will cut your water usage in half. Place the hose on the ground and cover it with mulch. You are applying the water directly to the soil and the mulch will help keep moisture in the soil. However, when the plants begin to flower, increase your watering to help set the fruit. Remember that tomatoes need consistent watering during fruiting.

Control your weeds! During a dry spell, they can outcompete garden plants for moisture, nutrients and sunlight. By removing them, you are helping the plant have easy access to essential elements during stressful weather conditions.

Using thread watering

Ever tried thread watering? Veggies like bean vines, pea vines, tomatoes, zucchinis, pumpkins, and squashes can all be watered this way.

Along the top of your shade netting or fence, run PVC pipes, capped at one end, and attached to a gallon lidded bucket at the other. Each pipe has very small holes drilled in them, less than 1mm across. At each hole location, tie a coarse thread, and run the thread down to the base of the plant, pegging it into the ground with a 15cm nail.

Fill up the bucket nightly - a single gallon of water can irrigate a whole row for 24 hours with minimal losses. The lid does double duty of preventing evaporation and avoiding mosquitoes breeding.

Wick watering for plants in pots is useful for balcony gardeners – there are hints galore on the internet!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan