strawberry fruit beginning stages

Caring for Vegetables and Herbs in Heat and Drought

I know some areas of the Southwest have received excellent rain and some of the northern rivers are full of snow melt. But where I live in southeastern New Mexico, we have recorded only 4.85 inches of rain all year – and only about one quarter inch this summer.

Plus, we went from cooler than normal to hotter than normal. Our native plants are doing okay, but this is the first year we have had to water most of them more than once; usually we give them a nice spring soak and the monsoons take over by the time summer heat arrives.

It’s so dry the grasses (and many weeds, the bright side) are dormant. But the datura, or Jimson weed, thrives in heat and drought.

In June, we had a post about helping your garden survive Southwest summers. Many of the same rules for your ornamental plants apply to crop plants. Edibles can be even trickier; when a plant is producing flowers and fruit, it needs more energy and hydration. So, here are a few tips for helping your herbs and vegetables survive the Southwest heat and drought:

strawberry fruit beginning stages
Strawberries need cool temperatures and plenty of water; they are not ideal for Southwest summers!

Follow Norms for Planting Times in Your Area

The best start you can give your vegetables and herbs for surviving heat is to plant them in that sweet spot between lowest winter temperatures (danger of frost) and before daytime temperatures soar. Let’s face it – you can’t grow strawberries in the Phoenix summer, or maybe even either side of summer! So, check with local sources for the best time to plant vegetables like lettuce or tomatoes in your area. You can push the dates a little bit with some of the tips below. And remember, nothing is absolute when it comes to weather.

Rosemary is the perfect plant for dry climates. This one was just planted this summer and needs occasional watering only.

Select Herbs that Tolerate Your Conditions

Likewise, select herbs that can thrive in drought and even heat. Perennial herbs such as rosemary and thyme can survive these periods of hot, dry weather much better than others. This is one of the smartest xeric gardening strategies you can embrace – selecting the plants with the best chance of survival for your ornamental or edible garden. If you really want mint, plant it in a container that gets cooler temperatures and shade than your garden bed, for example.

We drip-watered this squash plant yesterday morning, and it still has enough moisture that the plant should survive another day in the mid to upper 90s.

Water With Drip And Soaker Hoses

It’s just good practice to water in a way that exposes fewer water droplets to evaporation and soaks slowly into the soil. The watering goes deeper to cool the roots and help the plants get through the heat of the day, and sometimes into the next day. A drip system is perfect because you can time and automate your watering. But soaker hoses are an inexpensive alternative. We use them on some areas once a week and then hand water as needed between soaking.

Watch next week for my review of a quick and easy method for swapping out soakers and watering wands.

Water in the Morning

Regardless of how you water, try to water your vegetables and herbs in the morning. Again, less will evaporate. But mostly, the water can begin to feed and cool the plants before peak daytime highs.

It’s not pretty, but this little bit of cloth protects my basil and romaine and holds in some of the cooling moisture.

Use Shade Fabric or Other Methods to Cool Plants

Rolls of shade cloth you can find at any home or garden store can help cool your plants (see our past post on tomatoes and heat for more). You can rig easy ways to roll out some shade when temperatures soar. Even protective row cloth can hold in water and keep plants somewhat cool. I cover all basil and greens such as lettuce and spinach mostly to keep grasshoppers off of them, but the covers can cool the greens and help them get through the day.

Container tomatoes can be moved in peak heat. These get strong morning sun and afternoon shade.

Harvest or Cut Back Flowering Herbs

Flowering also takes extra energy from herbs. You can help your herbs survive heat and drought by harvesting, especially before they flower. If you don’t need to harvest, trim flowers off to save energy and help retain the herb’s flavor. Or, if you have more than one plant, try to alternate among them so some flower for pollinators and ornamental interest while others are pruned and easy to harvest.

Control Weeds

Weeds suck up water your edible plants could use. Controlling weeds can help your vegetables and herbs use available water and cut down on insects that hang out on tall weeds.



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  • Sue Duff

    This is my first NM summer. I planted cucumbers when my chart said to. They are strong and bitter. Is that because of the heat? I planted in raised bagged soil that has a moderate amount of chip in it to retain water and water the plants every morning. In addition to the unpleasant flavor there are tons of blooms but not very many cucumbers. I pick them when they are small grocery store size.

    • Teresa Odle

      Hi Sue.
      As far as I know, cold, heat or lack of water can make them bitter. I can’t really say what size to pick them; it depends on the variety you planted. So, you can look at the seed packet or search the variety online for mature size. Try giving them a little more water (in a consistent amount each time your water, adjusting for rain), especially while it is so hot. And we can hope for some cooling temps and rain down here in the Southeast part of the state!