Water is essential for our gardens to thrive and provide healthy food for our families. Standard solutions – spreading mulch, growing drought-tolerant plants, using irrigation and greywater – help drought-proof your garden. However, there is a remarkably straightforward solution we tend to overlook – getting more water into and stored in our soil.

We do this using plants to enhance our soil’s capacity to capture and store water and reduce water loss from evaporation… even in tiny backyards![1]

We all realise that vegetation provides shade and wind protection, reducing water loss from evaporation, and living ground covers, leaf litter, and mulch to reduce runoff.

But did you know that there is another indispensable role plants play?

We’re not the only ones who eat them! Plants are the primary food source for the soil organisms responsible for maintaining soil structure and producing organic matter.[1] Having well-built soil infrastructure and heaps of organic matter we increase water infiltration and storage in our soil.

See the blue arrows in the diagram below.Diagram showing how to drought-proof your garden by improving your water cycle

Eco-logical Principles

Soil organisms use organic waste materials together with decaying roots and root exudates to improve soil structure and create organic matter.[1,2] Above-ground sources of organic waste materials come from leaves, sticks and stems, as well as from insects, and other animals feeding on the extra vegetation we now grow.

Soil organisms use these resources to construct a crumbly soil structure with water-holding particles (aggregates) and spaces between for water storage. Photo of good soil structure

They also break down the organic waste materials into organic matter, which acts like a sponge storing incredible amounts of water – up to 90% of its weight.[3]

Photo showing water being squeezed out of soil

Spreading mulch isn’t as effective as growing plants.

Only a small portion of the organic materials from mulch and other above-ground inputs like leaf litter, crop stubble, and compost is retained long term as organic matter. Organic materials from plant roots and root exudates are needed to increase the levels of organic matter stored in our soil.[4,5] That’s why when we spread mulch the benefits quickly disappear.

Two things to Remember

  1. The warmer (and wetter) your climate – the more food your soil organisms need to help drought-proof your garden.[1]
  2. Should you be concerned about extra vegetation sucking too much water out of the ground through transpiration, research shows that as your soil improves, less water will get lost overall because of the reduction in water loss from evaporation, combined with increased water infiltration and storage in your soil.[6]

Advantages of this Eco-logical Approach

Our gardens thrive and we provide healthy food for our families by –

  1. Making the most of the water we have available and extending our growing season by keeping soil moist well into dry times.
  2. Reducing our water bills.
  3. Growing plants to feed our soil ecosystem and our families as well!
  4. Reducing our reliance on fertilisers and compost.
  5. Growing mulch right where we need it – saving you the effort and expense of inputting organic materials from elsewhere!
  6. Helping in a small way to increase precipitation.

>>See the Benefits in this Video

Get Support with Drought-Proofing your Garden

It’s hard to feel positive during a drought. But using these resources you’ll get practical solutions to use in your garden and can get your seeds, seedlings, and planting materials ready for when the rain does come!

Recommended articles –

  1. What is Healthy Soil?
  2. How to Build Healthy Soil – Eco-logically
  3. Trees make Rain – there is science now to prove it!
  4. How can we increase Rainfall – Eco-logically
  5. What is Regenerative Farming and Gardening

Or get everything you need to know to drought-proof your garden using this resource – Drought-Proof your Garden.Front cover drought-proof your garden

References for How to Drought-Proof your Garden

[1] Wendy Seabrook, 2020, Eco-logical Gardening Handbook, Published by Learning from Nature.

[2] Root exudates are the sugars and proteins which plants release from their roots.

[3] Jones, C. E., 2006, Carbon and catchments. National’ Managing the Carbon Cycle’ Forum, Queanbeyan, NSW, 22-23 November 2006.

[4] Michael W. I. Schmidt, Margaret S., et al., 2011, Persistence of soil organic matter as an ecosystem property, Nature 478

[5] Daniel P. Rasse, Cornelia Rumpel & Marie-France Dignac, 2005, Is soil carbon mostly root carbon? Mechanisms for a specific stabilisation, Plant and Soil (2005) 269: pp 341–356

[6] Andrea D. Basche & Oliver F. Edelson., 2017, Improving water resilience with more perennially based agriculture. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 41:7, 799-824.

[7] Transpiration is the process by which water is carried through plants and released into the atmosphere: the water travels from the plant’s roots to the leaves; it’s then released from the leaf pores as water vapour.

Featured image ©  Jason Deines