Droughts are rare incidents in Louisiana for extended periods of time. Nevertheless, they do occur, and gardeners must be prepared. If adequate irrigation is available, many vegetable crops will thrive quite nicely with reduced or no rainfall. Many plants, such as watermelon and cantaloupe, flourish in drier soils. The key to managing the vegetable garden during a drought is understanding how to manage the irrigation you must now supply.
Gardeners may notice that seasons with less rainfall have reduced disease incidence and fruit rots. Rain drops spread yeasts, molds, bacteria and other nasty, minute creatures in the air from plant to plant. Without the rain, gardeners often notice fewer spots on foliage from disease. But what you may notice more during drought is insect damage. Insects need water. Droughts deplete natural puddles and reduce weeds, grass and ornamental plant growth all around our yards and neighborhoods. So, if your vegetable garden is being irrigated, it is attractive for insects that need vegetation to eat and water to drink. Be prepared to battle insects with methods such as proper plant spacing, reduction of weeds in the garden, releasing beneficial insects and the use of organic and synthetic insecticides when necessary.
If you haven’t been doing this and your soil is completely dried out, you must apply enough water to rewet the soil. This will most easily be done in smaller gardens using a hose with a water breaker nozzle. As much as possible, water at the base of the plants. Avoid furrow irrigating as this can move soil-borne disease throughout the garden. If you have drip irrigation installed but haven’t been using it, you may need to leave it on for hours or even overnight to rewet completely hard and dried out soils.
If the drought is becoming too much to handle, don’t worry. Pull out your crops and cover the garden with a tarp to reduce weed growth until the next season. You can also plant a cover crop and wait it out. Better times are ahead.
Soaker hoses and drip tape are ideal watering systems to prevent excessive disease in smaller garden. Photos by Kathryn Fontenot