Garden Design

29 Healthy Drought Resistant Crops

What interests me about drought resistant crops isn’t because I live in the desert or drier climate. Actually, it rains a lot in the spring where I live. What I love about an edible garden that can survive during a dry spell is that during the summer, I get very busy with my kids being home from school and during weeks when we go on vacation.

Nothing lowers my good vibes more than when I return home and see plants that I was nurturing all dried up before I could harvest anything. The time and money spent growing them only to lose them because I got too busy or needed a break is so disappointing. Plants that can survive a little neglect and won’t stress me out worrying about when I have time to water the garden is why I became so interested in drought resistant gardening.

Table of Contents

Savory herbs are a great place to start when growing Drought Resistant Crops

We are exposed to amazing dishes influenced from all over the world. Our palates are a little spoiled. Sprinkling some savory tasting herbs can really elevate the taste of your cooking especially when they are fresh from your backyard and not wrapped in plastic spoiling on grocery shelves. The following are herbs that need full sun but are also drought tolerant listed in alphabetical order.

***Even though herbs have many benefits, we need to recognize that everyone is in different situations and have different needs…meaning many herbs aren’t recommended for pregnant/breastfeeding moms and for people taking certain medications. If you aren’t sure, always check with your doctor or allergist.

Mature chives can handle some dryness

Why it can handle dry conditions: In my own garden, my establish chive plants could go through longer periods of time where the soil is dry. When chives leaves are drooping or yellowing, the plant could use a double dose of watering. My 1st year plants need more consistent watering.

Zones: 3-9

How to cook with it: Chives are very versatile. They can be frozen, dried or used fresh. Adding it as a topping to food as soon as it’s finished cooking really brings out the flavor and keeps the color.

Nutrition Info: Very low in calories, chives have some potassium and vitamin C.

Common dill is drought resistant.

Dill is a great drought resistant crop that can also dazzle a bland sauce

Why it can handle dry conditions: The trick is to water dill until well established which means when it starts to have new leaves growing on it. The soft spiny leaves and even the seeds are edible. Dill is a host plant for Swallowtail butterfly varieties.

Zones: Dill grows in zones 3-7.

How to cook with it: Dill is most commonly known to use in canning pickles and it certainly does the job of adding flavor despite the overpowering sourness of vinegar. I was raised on Eastern European cooking where we would add dill to white sauces that didn’t have much flavor beyond salt and pepper. I love using it with white sauces paired with chicken and pork chops. It goes well with mushrooms too. I add it towards the end of the cooking process or after I turn off the stove. Overcooking dill can diminish it’s wonderful flavor. Trim the leaves in big bunches and store in a brown paper bag to dry with the lid open.

Tip: Resist the urge to crumble the leaves between your fingers which releases the oils and flavor. It won’t store as long in your pantry.

Nutrition Info: It has calcium, iron and magnesium in addition to vitamin C and other vitamins. Please click here to review precautions.

Greek Basil can handle it better than Sweet Basil

Why it can handle dry conditions: I’m not sure the scientific reasons as to why it has survived some neglect. It does get a few yellow leaves and when I water it, bounces right back. It does prefer consistent watering and composted soil. I grow them in my raised beds.

Zones: 5-10

How to cook with it: Greek basil has very petite leaves that pack big flavor of traditional basil. This is a great alternative if you don’t like large size basil leaves in your sauces or salads but still love the flavor. This variety can be difficult to find as a full size plant at garden centers but they can be easily started from seed.

Nutrition info: Basil has iron, calcium and Vitamin A.

Lavandua angustifolia or Lavender Munstead variety growing against the side of the pool house to keep it protected from the wind.
Lavandua angustifolia or Lavender Munstead variety growing against the side of the pool house to keep it protected from the wind.

In New England gardens, lavender needs more help to keep it growing in drier conditions

Why it can handle dry conditions: Lavender is native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East so it’s no stranger to dry conditions.

Zones: Grows in zones 7-9. I wrote off growing it in Pennsylvania which is zone 6 because it was not dry enough and too cold. I learned a technique to plant lavender in my garden and have it successfully come back the following spring.

How to cook with it: Many varieties of lavender are meant for drying for scent but there is a variety I use in the kitchen. Munstead lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a hardier type of lavender. It has a strong sweet, fragrance. You can use the leaves to substitute for rosemary but I like combining Munstead lavender with rosemary. You can dry it in the same way as rosemary and use it as a tea. It can flavor lemonade or a Mojito. Caution: too much lavender can cause headaches and constipation. Fortunately, a little goes a long way because lavender has a big punch of flavor. Some people love using it to flavor sugar cookies.

Nutrition Info: Lavender has Vitamin A, calcium and iron. Please click here to review precautions.

Lemon Balm can be ignored

Why it can handle dry conditions: As a member of the mint family, Lemon Balm is pretty resilient. It could use some supplemental watering during the heat of the summer when it begins to wilt.

Zones: 4-9 (it is a perennial in zone 6)

How to use it: It has a lemon flavor to fresh salad and summer fruit salads. It can be used fresh and dried as a tea. Lemon Balm can be used to flavor ice teas, water and alcoholic beverages.

Caution: Lemon balm shouldn’t be consumed by someone who has thyroid disease and interfere with medicine used to treat it.

Nutrition info: Lemon Balm have vitamin C and Thiamin. It has 33% protein.

Misbehaving mint might be fresh but it’s forgiving of gardeners who forget to water

Why it can handle dry conditions: Mint loves a good occasional soaking of water with stretches of heat. Many gardeners worry about how invasive it is but there are ways to keep it contained. You can put it in a raised bed or grow it in a pot. It can be planted in an area between the house and sidewalk where it is contained.

Zones: Grows in zones 3-8.

How to cook with it: The saying “a little goes a long way” applies to mint when added to food and drinks. Whether it’s fresh or dried, you don’t need to be a cook to enjoy the benefits of mint. All you need to do is to be able to make tea. Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is perfect for making tea and has a sharper mint flavor. Use it fresh or dried in a strainer. Mint (Mentha) is best used fresh in drinks like a Mint Julep or Sweet Tea. The leaves are the best part of the plant to use.

Nutrition Info: Mint tea has been historically used to ease indigestion. It has vitamin A, vitamin C and B-complex, phosphorous and calcium. Please click here to review precautions.

New growth leaves of an oregano from seed I planted a few weeks prior.
New growth leaves of an oregano from seed I planted a few weeks prior.

Oregano has so much more going for it than pizza

Why it can handle dry conditions: As a Mediterranean plant, oregano has adapted to windy, dry conditions. Use it fresh during the growing season and harvest before the first frost

Zones: It grows in zones 4-9.

How to cook with it: We love dried oregano for it’s fragrance when we bite into that first slice of pizza. I am sure to have oregano in my spice cabinet because it can be used for many things. It can be added to salads especially a cucumber salad I made with quartered cucumbers, diced fresh tomato and purple onion. I also add it to boiled and mashed potatoes mixed in with other herbs. Oregano can take a longer cooking process. Let it dry in a brown paper bag then store in a glass jar.

Nutrition Info: Oregano has Vitamin K, A, Potassium, Lutein and Beta Carotene. Please click here to review precautions.

Hungarian Parsley has rounded leaves compared to Italian Parsley.

Hungarian Parsley has great stamina

Why it can handle dry conditions: Hungarian parsley can handle drier conditions time to time. I grow it along with my tomatoes and basil. This variety of parsley is prized for it’s ability to handle cold conditions better than other parsley varieties. For more information about Hungarian parsley, check out another post I wrote about growing it in my garden by clicking here.

Zones: 6-9 (in zone 6, it’s a biennial so plant it in a part of your garden knowing it will return the following spring and will go to seed)

How to cook with it: Hungarian parsley has a more mild flavor compare to the strong flavor of Italian parsley. It’s often used in Eastern European cooking of sauces and soups.

Nutritional Info: Parsley is higher in potassium and has a little Vitamin C.

Rosemary prefers dry over damp conditions

Why it can handle dry conditions: Even though rosemary doesn’t like damp conditions, they can struggle when it’s too dry for too long. It’s great because in zone 6 I don’t have to water it during the summer because rosemary gets enough water from a few rainy days we do have. When you notice some browning leaves usually at the bottom of the plant, give your rosemary a good drink in more arid conditions.

Zones: It’s a perennial in zones 7-9. It’s an annual in colder conditions.

How to cook with it: The freshness that rosemary brings to food makes my taste buds just pop. When I stopped eating carbs, I really missed rosemary in Focaccia which is a flat bread where you can add seasonings to the top of it. I had to find alternative ways to use fresh rosemary than what I was used to.

Instead, I started adding it with chicken and I always have some fresh rosemary for my Thanksgiving turkey. If you have switched to a Mediterranean diet, you’ll want fresh rosemary on hand. It’s a cheap way to use as a skewer for kabobs that you can make on the grill or even the oven. It adds more flavor than those wooden skewers. You can infuse olive oil with a fresh rosemary sprig and add lots of great flavor to your cooking. I also love adding it with fresh thyme and lavender to white potatoes with grass-fed butter.

Before a heavy frost or when you see some of the leaves starting to brown from the cold, harvest the rest of your rosemary or replant it in a pot to bring inside. I dry the rest of my rosemary in a brown paper bag then quickly pull the leaves off and store in a glass jar. I have a Mortar and pestle to crush the dried rosemary leaves with other dried herbs to help me release the full flavor right before adding it to food.

Nutrition Info: Rosemary has iron, calcium, and vitamin B-6. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. Please click here to review precautions.

Sage doesn't mind if you cut it back and use the leaves.
Sage doesn’t mind if you cut it back and use the leaves.

Listen to sage’s advice because it will still provide despite dry conditions

Why it can handle dry conditions: An established common sage plant (Salvia officinalis) might struggle a bit during a dry spell but can bounce back. In zone 6, I don’t even water them during the summer. In fact, I have to give them a hard prune in spring and fall because they over take the space. Common sage flowers attract pollinators and is also an attractive place for the Praying Mantis to lay their eggs. When I find an egg sac, I don’t trim that branch until the following spring after the babies are born.

Zones: Sage grows in zones 5-8.

How to cook with it: My mouth just waters when I think of the soft flavor of sage (Salvia Officinalis) in sauces and gravies. It’s also enhances the flavor of baked chicken and I use it in my Thanksgiving turkey recipe. Fortunately, my plants usually aren’t hit with a heavy frost so I can use sage from my garden for Thanksgiving. I also use sage tea to heal sore throats.

Nutrition Info: Sage is very high in vitamin K, and it also contains vital minerals like magnesium, zinc, and copper. In small amounts, it has vitamins A, C, and E. Please click here to review precautions.

Savory can handle the dry heat of the summer

Why it can handle dry conditions: Savory is pretty low maintenance because it doesn’t need much nutrients in the soil and can withstand drier conditions because it originated in the Mediterranean region. It’s not well known among Americans new to gardening but used widely in Romania, Bulgaria and is popular in Canada.

Zones: Grows in zones 5-8.

How to cook with it: Savory has a mild peppery taste with a hint of thyme. Not to be confused with Winter Savory which has a much stronger flavor. You can add it to fresh salad for those who like black pepper added to their salads. It can also be used for homemade salad dressings. If you are using marjoram, rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano, savory works really well with that flavor combo. Beef, pork and chicken are the most common meats cooked with savory whether it’s in the oven or made into a stew.

Nutrition Info: It has calcium, manganese, iron and vitamin B6. Please click here to review precautions.

This is a close up photo of sweet majoram which is often confused with thyme.
This is a close up photo of sweet majoram which is often confused with thyme.

Sweet marjoram is low maintenance and drought resistant

Why it can handle dry conditions: This herb won’t resent being a little neglected so it’s perfect for first time gardeners and people who have busy schedules making them forget to water the plants. It doesn’t even need much fertilizer and it won’t overwhelm the other plants it’s next to.

Zones: In zones 9 and above, it’s a perennial. It can grow during the summer in colder regions until the frost. I harvest mine in zone 6 by mid-October before the first deep frost.

How to cook with it: My father introduced this herb to me because it was an important ingredient to his goulash. It’s not a common herb used for cooking. It’s hard to exactly describe it’s smell which is similar to oregano but a little sweeter. Dried or fresh, sweet marjoram is great on fish and chicken. It’s a great herb to introduce if you’re on a Mediterranean diet.

Nutrition Info: A quarter cup of fresh marjoram has fewer than 15 calories, plus a decent amount of fiber, iron, vitamins A, C and K. Please click here to review precautions. Please click here to review precautions.

This English Thyme is drought tolerant because it thrives in this rock garden. Thyme tends to bloom in it's second year.
This English Thyme is growing in a rock garden. Thyme tends to bloom in it’s second year.

It’s time for thyme to get credit for putting up with dry spells

Why it can handle dry conditions: Thyme gives gardeners flexibility because the different varieties can put up with dry conditions long after surrounding plants struggle under the same conditions. Thyme struggles when the weeds are over taking their space and competing with water supply. Invasive weeds will choke the plant. When Thyme blooms, it attracts pollinators including butterflies.

Zones: Grows in zones 2-10.

How to cook with it: Each variety of thyme has it’s own unique flavor. Orange thyme has a sweetness with a hint of orange. You need English thyme in your spice rack if you love mushroom soup. It’s delicious when you add sherry to mushroom soup. Do you love baked chicken? Thyme is one of the best dried herbs to have on hand. You can also drink it as an herbal tea.

Nutrition Info: It has some vitamin C. If you need to replace salt in your diet to lower your blood pressure, dried herbs are a great way to add more flavor to bland foods like chicken and potatoes. Use thyme in combination with dried rosemary, dill and sage.

Some vegetables can thrive despite brief drought conditions

There are many vegetables that are needy about watering them regularly in the summer time. In my climate, I can count on spring providing enough water so those cold weather vegetables have a great harvest. Drought resistant crops grabbed my interest more because I become more busy when my kids weren’t in school. It’s important to remember to keep weeds to a minimum because they compete with your crops for water. Here are a few of my favorite less needy vegetables that do well despite time in between watering.

Green Beans can deliver an encore performance in an edible garden

Why it can handle dry conditions: Also called pole beans among gardeners. In Zone 6, my growing season is shorter than some of the warmer zones so I have to be mindful about succession planting. It’s ready to harvest in 2 months or 65 days. As long as the temps are too high, green beans will grow despite dry conditions. To keep from wilting, they need about 1 inch of water a week unless the temp is really high that day.

Zones: 2-11

How to cook with it: Green beans can be steamed or boiled. They are delicious in soups. I like to bake them and add soy sauce to them. If you like green beans to keep some crispness, boil water and add them for a few minutes. Drain them and add them to cold water to stop the cooking process.

Nutrition Info: According to the USDA, they are high in water content, magnesium, potassium and molybdenum (click on this link to see why it’s important).

I always try growing several varieties of cherry tomatoes.

Cherry and grape tomatoes appreciate a good soak with some drying time in between

Why it can handle dry conditions: Of all the drought resistant crops, I love growing cherry and grape tomatoes. In my experience, they are more forgiving when I get too busy and neglect them. I’ve had issues with blossom rot on my larger tomatoes but no blossom rot with my cherry tomatoes. A good rain and a week or two of sun, they are still juicy. Actually, cherry tomatoes split when there is too much rain. Just make sure to water them until they are established and give them a good helping of black compost then stand back and let them do their thing.

Zones: 3-10

How to cook with it: You get the most nutritional content when eaten raw. Obviously salads are the most common way to enjoy them. In place of traditional tomatoes, you can combine them with mozzarella balls and fresh basil. They can be baked and sauteed.

Nutrition info: According to the USDA, grape tomatoes are high in water content, vitamin C, lycopene, trans-beta carotene and potassium.

Zucchini is the gift that keeps on giving despite dry spells

Why it can handle dry conditions: Thanks to deep root systems, established zucchini plants are able to weather dry conditions. Because they are prone to powdery mildew, drier weather works in their favor. Hitting the leaves with water and growing plants too closely together contributes to powdery mildew. If you find that your zucchini harvest isn’t as juicy as it should be or you see the leaves are curling, give your plant some supplemental water at the base without watering the leaves can help it during drier weather conditions.

Zones: 3-9

How to cook with it: Zucchini is most known for sauteing with other vegetables. It doesn’t have much flavor of it’s own so it can easily be combined with other ingredients without influencing the taste. It will take on the flavor of the other ingredients. It can be shredded for zucchini bread. Instead of inflammatory oils like canola or vegetable oil, I like to bake it with avocado oil and even olive oil but the bread isn’t as fluffy.

Nutrition info: Zucchini is low in calories, low carbohydrates and high in water content. According to the USDA, it’s high in potassium, beta carotene, and lutein.

Sunflowers worship the sun so it’s no surprise they are drought resistant

Why it can handle dry conditions: Sunflowers have a heavy branched root system that enables them to withstand drier periods.

Zones: 4-9

How to cook with it: Wait for the sunflower heads to dry before using a pruners to remove the stalk. If the stalk is really thick, you can use a sharp knife to remove the flower. Some people like to roast the sunflower seeds. Even if you don’t enjoy sunflower seeds, you can grow them for supplementing your chicken feed.

Nutrition info: According to the USDA, sunflowers are magnesium, potassium, total folate and choline (click here to find out why it’s important).

There are a few hardy fruit plants that can handle dry spells

Most of the time, fruit trees and plants need consistent water due to the high water content of the fruit. As with anything, there are exceptions to the rule.

Established grapes can tolerate mild dry conditions

Why it can handle dry conditions: Choosing the right cultivar or variety of grape that will tolerate drier conditions is the most important initial step. Do some due diligence in researching the varieties that would grow best in your area. A dry spell in California is different than a dry spell in Pennsylvania. Unless you are planning on making wine, be sure to choose varieties you can eat fresh.

Zones: 7-10

How to cook it: Most people prefer to eat fresh grapes as a snack. It can also be great to add to a fruit salad. They can be tasty in jellies and jams. Grapes are a nice twist to adding to parfaits and pair well with other fruits like blueberries. They hold up well on a serving platter with cheeses, crackers and meats.

Nutrition info: According to the USDA, raw green grapes have lycopene, trans-beta-Carotene and some vitamin C. However, raw red grapes have more potassium, calcium and phosphorous.

Blackberries are hardier than raspberries when it’s dry

Why it can handle dry conditions: An easy rule of thumb to remember about blackberries as a drought resistant crop is even though they can tough out drier conditions, they need water to give fruit and when they need to get established. Some varieties that do better in warmer conditions is Brainard and Brazos, however, this variety won’t handle cold conditions.

Zones: 5-8

How to cook with it: My favorite way is to eat them raw with other berries. You can make jellies and jams.

Nutrition info: They have a lot of fiber, vitamin C and vitamin K.

Goji berries are a tasty drought resistant crop

Why it can handle dry conditions: Once established, Goji berries can put up with short periods of drought like conditions. For smaller gardens, they can be grown in containers. It’s important to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out.

Zones: 3-10

How to cook with it: When the berries are dried, they can be added to granola mixes. They can be baked in pies, sauces and added to smoothies.

Nutrition Info: They are most known as being high in vitamin C.

The fruit of the Castanea sativa or the sweet chestnut.

Chestnut trees can take hot and cold

Why it can handle dry conditions: Chestnut trees grow better when the spring brings rain and they go through a short dry spell. They need well drained soil. Chestnut trees grow very large so you’ll need room for when it matures. It provides great shade during the heat of the summer.

Zones: 4-9

How to cook with the nuts: Roasting is a popular way to enjoy chestnuts because it brings out their flavor. They can also be boiled. Take care if removing chestnuts from their sharp casing. Be mindful if someone has allergies to tree nuts.

Nutrition info: Chestnuts are high in potassium. They have some Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and a little Magnesium.

Summary

Drought resistant crops are a great option for forgetful or busy gardeners. This post gave examples of herbs, vegetables, fruit and nuts where the plants are drought resistant. Some of these plants need more water than others on this list. Scroll down and see if any plants catch your eye. Read the description to see if your eating habits would benefit from these plants and do research to find out if the plant would thrive in your garden. Create the garden that makes you happy!