Burning sun got your garden looking limp on the daily? I’ve got you. Zones that experience heat waves and minimal rainfall can be a major challenge for gardeners, especially if you’re inexperienced or new to the area.
When I moved to Colorado, I was definitely blindsided by how difficult it was for my plants to thrive outdoors compared to living in the Houston area where everything is humid and wet, even though the temps can soar into the 100s during the summertime. Gardening is an entirely different ballgame in arid areas!
With careful planning and some tricks of the trade, you can have a beautiful garden that thrives in even the harshest conditions. Here are eight of the very best gardening tips for dry & hot climates
What to plant in a dry, hot climate
Cacti and succulents
These are some of the best plants for dry, hot climates because they’re adapted to store water in their leaves, stems, or roots. They also don’t require much watering once they’re established.
Another great option for dry, hot climates is native plants. These have evolved to be able to survive the local conditions, so they’re much more likely to thrive than non-native plants.
To be honest, no matter where you live, it’s probably a great idea to plant some native species in your area. They’re much more likely to thrive, last for decades, and to support local pollinators and other wildlife.
Mediterranean plants & herbs
Plants from the Mediterranean region are also well-suited for dry, hot climates. They’re used to long periods of drought followed by quick bursts of rainfall, so they can handle dry conditions better than other plants.
- Lemon verbena
There are many plants that have been bred to be tolerant of drought conditions, so they’re a good option for gardeners in dry climates. Look for varieties that are labeled as “drought-tolerant” or “dry-tolerant.”
Heat-tolerant veggies and fruits
Growing heat-tolerant vegetables and fruits is a good strategy for dry and hot zones because they can handle the intense sun and lack of water better than other plants.
Examples of heat-tolerant veggies and fruits for your garden
- Squash (Zucchini, pumpkin, butternut squash, yellow squash, etc.)
- Beans (Pole or bush beans)
How to water your plants in a dry, hot climate
- In the morning: The best time to water your plants is in the morning, before the heat of the day sets in. This gives them a chance to absorb the water before it evaporates.
- In the evening: If you can’t water in the morning, watering in the evening is the next best option. Avoid watering late at night, though, as this can encourage fungal diseases.
- Deeply and infrequently: In some dry areas, it’s better to water your plants deeply and infrequently than to water them lightly and more often. Watering deeply encourages roots to grow deep into the soil, which helps them access moisture even during periods of drought.
- Watering pretty much every day: In other dry areas, watering every day or almost every day might be the answer. Watering infrequently is more likely to work when the soil retains water well, which might not be the case in your area. Try out both of these methods and see which one works the best for your garden.
Mulching tips for a dry, hot climate
Mulching is one of the best things you can do for your garden, especially in a dry climate. It helps to keep moisture in the soil and prevents evaporation. Mulching can actually be the key to saving your plants from frying up in the hot sun – it keeps the soil temperatures up to 10 degrees cooler so that the roots won’t get boiled and burned.
Organic mulches for dry climates
There are many organic materials that make great mulches, including wood chips, wood shavings, leaves, straw, and grass clippings. Do your best to make sure that your mulch wasn’t sprayed with anything that could be damaging to your plants or to local pollinators.
There are literally dozens of places to find free organic mulches for your dry climate garden. Check local gardening Facebook groups for leads – using the search bar can net amazing results from people looking to get rid of grass clippings to arborists who need to offload truckfuls of freshly chipped tree pieces. Both would be great options for mulching your garden in a hot climate.
Organic mulches add nutrients back into the soil as they break down. Over time, this can help to improve the quality of the soil, making it more fertile and better able to support plant life. This process improves the texture and structure of the soil, making it more hospitable for plant life. All that to say that organic mulches can play an important role in improving the overall health of your garden – especially when gardening in a hot, dry climate where improving your soil can be tricky and expensive.
Inorganic mulches, such as black plastic or landscape fabric, can also be effective at preventing evaporation and retaining moisture in the soil.
They aren’t my personal favorite option just because they don’t add any nutrients back into the soil like organic mulches do. You’re also less likely to get these kinds of mulches for free.
But they are definitely an option and are widely available online and in gardening and home improvement stores.
How much should you mulch a garden in a dry climate?
The thickness of your mulch layer will depend on the type of material you’re using and the conditions in your garden. A good rule of thumb is to apply a 2-3 inch layer of mulch. As always, experiment to see what works best in your garden.
Protecting your plants from the sun in a dry, hot climate
In a dry climate, it’s super important to protect your plants from the harsh afternoon sun. The hot sun can literally fry up your plants, leaving them dried out and stressed.
Full sun plants might not actually need full sun when grown in gardens in a dry, hot area
Something pretty common in hot zones is for gardeners to plant their gardens smack in the middle of the sunniest area of their yard and then get upset when their crops fail to thrive.
Even if your seed packet says “full sun” on it, there is a good chance that if you’re growing in a place like Arizona, Colorado, or Nevada, your plants may do better in partial shade.
Please don’t think that there’s anything wrong with your gardening skills if you’ve transplanted young seedlings outdoors and they just shrivel up and die within a couple of days. It’s not you, it’s probably the crazy-intense sun!
My best tip for starting to garden in a hot and dry climate is to plant as many of your crops in containers before picking a spot to put in your more permanent garden. Of course, if you are using shade cloth, then you can probably put the garden anywhere with a lot of sun.
But for people who aren’t ready to put up a semi-permanent structure like that, get yourself some grow bags for your plants and start with those before putting in raised beds or anything else. This way, if your plants start looking scorched and unhappy, you can move them into a shadier spot.
This is what saved my garden the first year of growing veggies in Colorado!
There are a few more general ways you can protect your plants from the sun:
- Use shade cloth or burlap to create shady spots in your garden.
- Plant trees or shrubs to provide natural shade for your garden. This is obviously a longer-term strategy, but it’s almost never a bad idea to plant trees and shrubs in your yard. Just be sure you’re avoiding any species that can become invasive in your area and focus on natives as well as plants that thrive in your climate.
- Place potted plants on wheels so that you can easily move them.
- Cover up tender plants with boxes or upside-down buckets during the hottest part of the day.
Fertilizing your plants in a dry, hot climate
If you’re gardening in a dry, hot climate, it’s important to fertilize your plants on a regular basis. This will help them to stay healthy and strong despite the harsh conditions.
There are many different types of fertilizer available, so it’s important to choose one that’s appropriate for the plants you’re growing. In general, though, you’ll want to use a fertilizer that’s high in phosphorus. This nutrient is key to helping plants develop strong roots, which is essential in a dry climate where they need to be able to access moisture deep down in the soil.
You can apply fertilizer directly to the soil around your plants or use a watering can or hose-end applicator to mix it into the water before you water your plants. Just be sure to follow the instructions on the fertilizer package so that you don’t apply too much, which can be harmful to your plants.
Pruning tips for a dry, hot climate
Pruning is an important gardening task in any climate, but it’s especially important in a dry, hot climate. This is because pruning helps to encourage new growth, which can be vital for plants that are struggling to survive in harsh conditions.
In general, you’ll want to prune your plants in the late winter or early spring. This gives them plenty of time to recover from the pruning before the hot, dry weather hits.
Be sure to use clean, sharp tools when you prune so that you don’t damage the plant. Sterilizing your tools every so often is a great idea to avoid spreading diseases between your plants.
And always make sure that you know what you’re doing before you start – it’s easy to accidentally damage or kill a plant if you don’t know what you’re doing. Try looking up a video on YouTube or two for how to prune the plant you’re looking at before jumping in. Alternatively, get some tips from a gardening Facebook group and get some experienced gardeners to chime in with their advice.
Weeds and pests in a dry, hot climate
Unfortunately, weeds and pests are a fact of life for gardeners in any climate. But there are some steps you can take to help minimize the problems they cause in your garden.
First, make sure that you’re diligent about pulling up weeds as soon as you see them, if you can and when you can. The longer they’re allowed to grow, the harder they’ll be to get rid of. Don’t beat yourself up about this of course, but I just add it to my to-do list once or twice a week to try to stay relatively on top of the weeds.
You should also regularly check your plants for signs of pests such as aphids or whiteflies. If you catch the problem early, you’ll be able to treat it before it does too much damage to your plants.
Container gardening in a dry, hot climate
Container gardening is a great option for gardeners in dry, hot climates. This is because you can control the soil and moisture levels more easily than you can in traditional garden beds.
When choosing containers for your plants, be sure to choose ones that are made from a material that will help to insulate the roots from the heat. Terracotta or glazed ceramic pots are good choices. You can also use black plastic pots, but try covering them with a light-colored fabric such as white burlap to reflect the sun’s heat.
It’s also important to choose the right size pot for your plants. The larger the pot, the more soil there is to hold moisture and protect the roots from the heat.
In order to have a successful garden in a dry or hot climate, it’s important to know what you’re doing and to be prepared for some challenges. Try and try again.
Don’t be afraid of experimenting! Write down what works and what doesn’t even if you feel like you’ll remember it – there’s always so much going on with a garden that it’s difficult to keep things straight without writing it down.
These tips will help you get started on the right foot. Check out my other gardening articles for more tips, lists, and gardening supply recommendations!
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- 15 Crops to Grow in Fall ( Insanely Delicious and Productive)
- 10 Reasons to Grow Borage in Your Home Garden
- Why Grow Nasturtiums? 5 Uses for Nasturtiums in Your Home and Garden
- How to Grow Your Own Wheatgrass at Home Effortlessly: Growing Guide