Diane Kennedy

Planting Techniques for Drylands

Posted on September 25, 2016

Longer, hotter, windier and drier summers will be the norm in Southern California, and how you plant is as important as what you plant.  Raised beds and berms are excellent for repelling water; however, that is opposite of what we need here.  Therefore in drylands we plant in depressions in the ground.  Moisture, including ambient moisture, and cold can collect in the basins and plants will benefit.  Their roots won’t be heating and drying, but will be cool and protected.  Burying old wood, preferably wet or better still soaked in Actively Aerated Compost Tea, beneath the plant provides food for years to come and increases microbial production.  Using permaculture techniques instead of commercial fertilizer is extremely important to build soil quality.  Using chemicals will increase water usage by 40% or more, and depletes the soil every year.  Being soil farmers rather than plant farmers increases the soil fertility and health of the plants and ecosystem every year.  Also, the rising temperatures have made many crops such as tomatoes not productive because they won’t set fruit over a certain temperature.  Protecting these crops through the summer from the intense heat, and then enjoying a fall and winter harvest (in frost-free areas) rather than pulling these plants out is better.  Protecting crops with fast-growing lacy trees such as acacia, moringa and other is an excellent way to add to your garden.  Acacia is a nitrogen-fixer, and can be chopped and dropped in the winter months to allow sun on the crops, and allowed to grow for summer protection.  Moringa is a food crop and can be coppiced for harvest in the Fall.  Growing more trees will help slow the wind which will assist with adequate pollination and help reduce sun scald and leaf burn. Sheet mulching helps hold water in the soil and helps hold humidity, and humidity keeps pollen viable.

The challenge of growing in drylands means unthinking traditional planting techniques, which are created for wetter, cooler climates.  Water capture, wind reduction, moisture retention and sun protection all must be addressed for successful low-water-use growing.