Classic Formal Potager Garden in Southern California | Abundant herb circle centers the potager

Water-wise Edible Garden

May 22
3 min read

You Can Garden +
Eat the Produce too

With an ongoing drought in California (that has expanded to the greater Western half of the US), reducing or redirecting water usage is critical for each of us. Having an edible garden doesn’t have to be a burden on local water supplies. Here are a few suggestions to have a water-wise edible garden filled with drought tolerant edible plants.

Plant Intensively

This may seem counter-intuitive (based on a lot of ill-informed scare articles published), but intensively planting is an ancient farming technique and an essential part of reducing water usage. One of the trademark characteristics of Heirloom Potager gardens is the abundance of crops grown in a small space.

This method of planting more into garden spaces helps in several ways. Roots retain water. The more healthy roots in the soil, the more water those roots retain, holding moisture longer, meaning less water is wasted as runoff due to hydrophobic soil (i.e. – dry soil). The closeness of the plants also reduces the exposure of the soil’s surface to the harsh summer sun in southern California.

Our goal: pack as many plants as you can into your square footage without cramping your plant’s growth potential. We accomplish intensive planting by mixing quick-growing options like scallions, radishes, and edible flowers with slower-growing plants like beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, chard, and celery.

water-wise edible garden

Install Drip Irrigation

We prefer drip irrigation in our raised gardens to direct water where it needs to go: right to the soil. However, drip irrigation is often misunderstood and subsequently, misused. Drip irrigation systems MUST be used for a significantly longer period of time than traditional sprayer heads. Since drip irrigation releases a small amount of water, less is used overall during the same time period when compared to spray irrigation. We prefer using soaker hoses in our client gardens with custom watering grids that help with planting and consistent water delivery.

Use Ollas

Ollas or oyas, are an ancient watering technique that provides slow and steady watering in the garden. An olla is a clay ceramic vessel buried almost entirely into the soil to deliver the right amount of water needed when it’s required. Ollas encourage deep watering, which builds healthy root systems. An affordable, non-permanent solution for irrigating your crops (even in containers!), ollas are a great investment for the edible gardener.

Incorporate Groundcover Options

In tangent with intensive planting, we love adding groundcover plants that help protect the soil. In addition to being beautiful (and edible), they are great for companion planting, another heirloom gardening technique that interplants herbs and flowers together to attract and repel various garden insects.

Some of our favorite groundcover plants include:

  • Alyssum
  • Calendula
  • Nasturtium
  • Sage
  • Sorrel
  • Strawberries
  • Thyme

Add Water-retaining Soil Amendments

One of the best things you can do for your plants is to amend your soil with organic materials. Leaf mulch, coco coir, homemade compost, coffee grounds, and coffee chaff are some of our favorite options for keeping soil healthy and water absorbent. Each are sustainable options, meaning they are readily renewable without being a burden on the environment. Heirloom Potager is proud to partner with local coffee roasters, collecting their chaff, an organic by-product of the coffee roasting process, to redirect it from landfills into client gardens.

Another organic material that helps retain soil moisture is mulch or wood chips. Adding a layer to in-ground or raised beds reduces the surface exposure of the soil. Mulch also helps regulate soil temperature and breaks down slowly over time to add nutrients and vitality to the microbiology below the soil line.

Handful of redwood mulch to create a water-wise garden
Cool-season garden

Select the Right Plants

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ll let you in on a secret: Nurseries suggest a lot of plants to grow that are outside of their ideal season here in southern California. #dontbefooled

That’s why we’ve created the Heirloom Potager zone 10b monthly growing guides and every garden consultation comes with a personalized garden growing guide for your garden zip code to help you know when and what to plant. Just because it’s available doesn’t mean it’s the right time to plant (or enjoy) specific crops. Our goal for every client is to help tailor your garden education to understand the unique (and amazing!) Mediterranean growing climate we enjoy in southern California. Most gardening knowledge is centered around methods that work in the Midwest. Because of this limiting knowledge base, we recommend if you’re keen on learning to garden in our climate, read more about the Sunset Western Gardening Guides.

Have a Water-wise Edible Garden

With the ongoing drought in California, it’s possible to grow a productive and sustainable, organic food garden (or landscape – we design those too). No extreme methods are required to have a water-wise edible garden. If you’re not sure where to start, complete a garden inquiry form to schedule a garden consultation.

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