Kitchen Gardening

Surviving A “Texas-Sized” Drought & Heat Wave

2011 brought a record-breaking drought and heat wave. Here are three ways my garden got through it.

  • Photo/Illustration: Greg Holdworth (All photos)
  • A drip irrigation system was simply essential this year.
  • Adding a timer to the system controls the amount of water and saves a lot of time.
  • Using burlap to shade sensitive plants helped a lot.
  • The shade covers could be placed on the "hot" side of the bed, but still allow for direct morning sun.
  • How hot was it here? These plastic seed trays literally melted from being "fried" in my cold frame!
  • My annual herb bed didn't get the memo about the drought.

Although most of us are now enjoying cooler Fall weather, this year’s extreme drought and heat wave haven’t been forgotten. Many areas of the country were affected by it, primarily in the South. As a gardener in the Dallas, Texas area, I can safely say that we were right in the “cross hairs”:

• Texas’ drought is the most severe one-year drought on record, according to Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon of Texas A&M University.
• Texas had the warmest summer for any state going back to 1895, according to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). The state’s average temperature was 86.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
• August 2011 was the hottest month in Texas history, according to the NCDC.
• The Dallas-Fort Worth area had 38 consecutive days of temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

My point? That gardeners in many parts of the country got a lesson in dealing with drought and heat on an amazing scale this year. There were three ways my garden faired well against these conditions:

1. Consistent moisture was provided through a drip irrigation system.

We all know a very effective way to provide consistent moisture to your plants is through a drip irrigation system. Some of the advantages this method has over hand-held tools or sprinklers are:
• It applies the water right where the plants need it – at the soil surface
• Almost no water is wasted through evaporation
• The system can be automated with a timer
• Lots of options are available in stores or online
• Relatively easy to set up

I’m embarrassed to say that it took me TEN years of gardening here to finally install such a system. The incredible conditions of this year called for drastic measures to be taken. I purchased a system from DIG ( at my local home center. When I say “system”, I don’t mean a kit that had everything I needed in a box. Rather, it was all of the different components (hoses, connectors, nozzles, clamps, etc.) purchased separately. In addition, I set up the system in phases. Since I was only using half of the raised beds at the time, I didn’t worry about irrigating the empty ones until I started to plant Fall crops in them. The reasonable amount I’ve spent wasn’t too bad, considering that my garden is over 1,200 square feet.

While it’s very easy to ask myself, “why didn’t I do this years ago?”, I am content in the fact that it’s now in place, and will help tremendously in the coming years. I was reminded by a fellow gardener that having your garden “watered for you” was no excuse to not visit it on a regular basis. Great point, I thought. The cost of my system has probably already paid for itself in saved time and lost stress. That said, I felt it was my duty to continue to be out there regularly to check for pests and do regular maintenance and cleanup.

2. Heat or strong light-sensitive plants were shaded by coverings.
While I couldn’t control the constant oppressive heat, I could control the amount of sunlight some of the more sensitive plants received. I had already built “bug protection screens” around most of my Fall leaf crops, as they were a favorite meal for pests. This made for a natural support in which to hold a shade cover.

I used regular tan burlap purchased at a fabric/craft store, and anchored it down with staples. If I had to separate or space out seedlings that I had thinned out (lettuce in particular), I gave them full shade for 2-3 days. Then, once they were over the “transplant shock,” I adjusted the burlap covers to give them more sun. In some cases, I only covered the side of the raised bed that got the more intense afternoon sun; allowing the plants to receive sun during the “cooler” morning hours.

3. Mulch helped retain soil moisture.
With the drip irrigation and shade covers in place, the last form of protection was mulch. As soon as most of my plants were large enough, they received a 1-3” layer of mulch made from grass clippings and chopped leaves. I routinely checked the soil under the mulch to make sure it was holding moisture well.

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