Carrots are a drought tolerant vegetable

The Best Drought Tolerant Vegetables to Grow at Home

Lesley Ann Sandbach

It is almost impossible to imagine that, after the inundations of late winter, we might have to think about drought-resistant plants for our vegetable gardens but, in these days of uncertain climate, we need to think about how we can introduce drought-resistant species into domestic gardens as well as in agriculture.

Drought-resistant crops play a vital role in agriculture, particularly if our future weather patterns indicate erratic rainfall. These crops possess the remarkable ability to thrive in conditions of limited water availability, making them crucial for ensuring food security in drought-prone areas.

There are three categories that we should be thinking about in the vegetable garden: annual vegetables; perennial vegetables and fruit.

Drought resistant annuals

Root vegetables: many of the root vegetables, such carrots, beetroot and parsnips have high drought resistant. Carrots and parsnips have a taproot system that can penetrate deep into the soil. As well as penetrating the soil, beetroot have a waxy coating to their leaves that helps reduce water loss.

Carrots and beetroot are both compact root vegetables that can grow happily next to each other. They are ideal plants for raised beds (carrots, in particular, as they need to be protected to about 25cms above the ground against low-flying carrot fly).

  • Sow the seeds on a sunny site in well-drained soil; make sure the earth is loose down to about 15cms to allow for proper development of the roots

  • Make furrows about 3cms deep and sow the seed lightly down the furrows (you can either mix the seed or sow alternate rows)

  • Cover the furrows and water gently (I use a watering can with a rose to prevent washing the seed away)

  • As the young seedlings grow, thin them out to about 5cms apart (tiny carrots are delicious raw and beetroot leaves can be used in salads)

  • In the early stages, the seedlings may need water; water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep root growth

  • Once established, these vegetables can withstand periods of drought; harvest them within 60-80 days when they are still fresh and small

Our troughs are fabricated in any dimensions with or without steel balled feet and drainage holes; internal bracing ensures the larger ones do not bow with the weight of soil. Our raised beds (with no base) are fabricated in any dimensions. Whichever style you choose, each one is extremely sturdy and in each case the top can have a sharp or a folded edge.

Zucchini (a variety of summer squash) and tomatoes like a sheltered spot in full sun and fertile soil that holds plenty of moisture. They can be big plants so need room to grow, although there are more compact varieties suitable for containers and types that can be grown up a trellis or obelisk.

A squash growing up an trellis
Squashes will grow happily up an obelisk  
A squash growing up an obelisk
...or trellis
  • Add plenty of compost or manure to the soil before planting as both zucchini and tomatoes are greedy feeders – zucchini can even be planted on top of compost heaps which provide both food and warmth.
  • Tomatoes can be started off indoors in early spring although I tend to buy young plants from a garden centre as this gives me the chance to try four or five different varieties; plant them out after all danger of frost has passed.

  • Start zucchini seeds off indoors in late May in biodegradable pots (they dislike bring transplanted) sowing one or two seeds per pot; alternatively, direct sow seeds in ground that has warmed up (leave sowing as late as June) 3cms deep and 7cms apart; if a cold snap threatens, use fleece to protect the young plants.

  • Young zucchini and tomato plants need moist soil and plenty of mulch to lock in moisture

  • Zucchini produce both male and female flowers and pollination can be slow as the male flowers appear first; you can help by using a small, soft brush or cotton swab to transfer the pollen from male to female (female flowers have a small swelling behind the flower).

  • Once established both tomatoes and zucchini plants can withstand dry conditions (think of sunny summers in southern Europe).

  • Harvest zucchini when they are tender and a bit immature for more flavour; keep harvesting as each plant can produce a bountiful harvest; the male flowers make delicious eating too (stuffed with soft cheese and fried).

Tomatoe plant thriving planted in obelisk
Tomato plants fill a 1.5m square obelisk...
Close up of tomatoe plants in obelisk's a closer shot of them thriving!

Drought resistant perennial vegetables

If you are lucky enough to have a large raised bed , then consider planting an asparagus bed. It will be 2-3 years before it starts to crop heavily enough to pick but it is well worth the effort to have newly picked asparagus. Although young asparagus plants need watering, once they are established they are drought tolerant.

  • Chose a sunny spot, sheltered spot at least 2m x 1.5m

  • Asparagus grows best in a light, sandy soil that has been well mulched

  • Crowns are the most reliable way to establish an asparagus bed; they are normally sent out in March but can also be planted in the autumn when the soil is still warm. Plant the crowns as soon as they arrive

  • Dig a trench about 30cms deep and 25cms wide; fork manure into the base and then cover with a 5cm layer of excavated soil making a ridge down the middle of the trench

  • Plant the crowns on the top of the ridge with the roots draped over the sides; space them about 45cms apart

  • Cover the roots with 7cms of soil; water well and mulch with a further 5cms of well-rotted manure or other organic compost

  • Fertilise the plants in spring

  • Harvesting: resist the temptation to harvest the first season; in the second season around half of the spears can be cut at about 15cms tall; mature crowns can be harvested for about 8 weeks from mid-April

Vegetables planted in Munton
I grow most of my vegetables in raised beds protected by a vegetable cage over which I throw fleece if a cold snap threatens


A top tip for the herbaceous border; cultivated blackberries. I grow mine up Cotswold Obelisks along the long herbaceous border that looks onto the wild flower meadow. They provide an architectural feature and also a delicious harvest! Cultivated blackberries are generally larger, sweeter and plumper than their hedgerow counterparts but they are just as vigorous (although not ‘rampant’) and as such require plenty of space. You will also need some kind of support for the blackberries to grow up – a trellis or obelisk is ideal – and tie the canes in periodically. 

Blackberries growing along a border
Blackberries growing up obelisks along the border...
Close up of Blackberries growing in an obelisk
...not only decorative, but also provide a delicious harvest.

Next week we are at Chelsea Flower Show and will bring you trends and new features on our Instagram and Pinterest accounts.

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