Well this is how our orchard looks after no rain for a long time. As you can see we have been trying hard to keep the trees alive by carting water from a creek, but that's all we are doing - keeping the poor things alive. The problem is, as soon as we water the trees the dry earth that surrounds them seems to pull the moisture out. We have now re-done the irrigation system and have started carting in bulk water for the orchard and the garden as well as for our domestic tanks as we have also run out of water for the house. Our shire along with many others have now been drought-declared, which means seventy-nine percent of Queensland is in drought. Goodness knows when we'll get rain so all we can do is go with it and do our best to keep our plants alive. It goes without saying how badly affected the farms are and how hard it is for the farmers to keep going.
This is what's left of my herb garden planted at the back deck near the kitchen. No matter how much I water it the earth and air are so dry that it doesn't seem to help. As you can see the Aloe vera is fine, but after-all it is a succulent so needs very little water. So I've come to the conclusion that the only way for most herbs to survive in times of drought is to have them in pots, especially plastic or ceramic pots - terracotta pots don't hold the moisture unless they're sealed. You need to transplant herbs that aren't too big into pots of a suitable size and if it's very hot, place them where they will get dappled shade or cover them with shade cloth. Do test the soil in the pot before watering them as when it's dry and warm they can be easily over-watered. I've made this mistake thinking the drooping leaves were a sign of the plant being dry when in fact they were just drooping because of the heat and/or dry air. To conserve water when watering the pots place saucers under them and put mulch on top of the soil.
This is a pre-drought photo when my rosemary plant was in a pot. Unfortunately, I planted it into the garden where it grew very well until the lack of rain dried the sub-soil out so much that the plant died despite being watered. The problem with the sub-soil became evident when I pulled the plant out; while the soil attached to the surface roots was still slightly moist the deeper roots were in dry soil. The only herbs still alive enough to be salvaged were parsley, thyme and lemon thyme. They have now been transplanted into pots using a good quality potting mix and are doing well.
1. If you do have enough water or need to cart water the best thing you can do for your garden and fruit trees is to set up micro-irrigation with small sprinklers that will gently spray water over the drip line of the trees. The drip line is the area below the entire spread of the leaves where rain will drip from the leaves onto the ground. By using small sprinklers the water will slowly seep into the soil compared to hand-watering that doesn't do a great deal for dry soil. Micro-irrigation is also ideal for vegetable and herb gardens - minimum water for maximum results.
2. Transplant herbs into plastic pots and keep them in dappled shade or under shade cloth in very hot weather. Test before watering to ensure you are not over-watering them.
3. Avoid planting where the surrounding area contains dry earth as no matter how much you water the plants the dry earth will draw the water away from them. In times of drought it's impossible to keep the surrounding earth moist as there's simply not enough water to do this.
4. One of the most important things you can do is mulch your plants, but make sure you water them well before applying it. I usually use Lucerne hay as it is very nutritious and is a fertiliser in itself, but other material such as sugar cane mulch and pea straw will help to retain moisture around the plants and protect the surface roots from heat.
Thankfully, the weather is beginning to cool here so we don't have to water so often.
For those of you who are presently affected by drought conditions, don't give up, just try to manage your plants and keep them alive the best way you can.
Proprietor, author, and tutor of The Home Herbalist Online Course.