I'm an amateur gardener planning a future garden in an extremely dry area. The soil is fertile, but I understand you need to water artificially in order to grow anything significant.

I want to experiment with species and varieties that aren't traditionally used in the area. When selecting species to try out, their estimated "thirstiness" is going to be a major factor, as water isn't going to be cheap.

Do any canonical resources on plant species' water consumption exist?

If not - what general characteristics should I look out for in order to determine how thirsty they are going to be?

  • Are you planning out permanent ornamental beds or annual vegetable gardens? – michelle Apr 3 '14 at 13:23
  • Vegetables, mainly. – Pekka Apr 3 '14 at 13:38
  • And what types of vegetables are you most interested in growing? – michelle Apr 3 '14 at 13:55

The problem with finding a resource that will tell you how much water an individual veggie needs is that it will depend so much on where you live. The temperature, the wind, the angle of the sun will all affect the plants water needs. That said, Corn needs a lot, cool season veggies like lettuces need a lot. Cucumbers need a fair amount, or they'll get bitter. Plants that typically thrive in the heat of summer can get away with a little less - beans, tomatoes, peppers, some zucchini, okra. Are there specific veggies you are thinking of trying?

You should also consider using some methods for creating a garden that requires less supplemental watering. That could be as easy as amending the soil so it contains a lot of organic matter, using ollas (or buried plastic bottles with holes in them) for underground watering and adding a rain barrel to your garden. If you wanted to put a little more effort in, you could think about building swales, doing hugelkultur, or creating a Zuni waffle garden. All are designed to make the most of the water you do get.

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How much water you need, especially when it comes to vegetables, will definitely vary from species to species - but it is also highly dependent upon your cultivation practices. For example, if you grow your vegetables in single file rows and leave the soil bare otherwise, you will lose a lot of water due to evaporation and have to replace that water more often. If you use a block planting method, and then mulch heavily between blocks, you will reduce your watering needs significantly compared to the first scenario. The more organic matter you have in your soil, the greater its capacity to hold water during wet spells (or during irrigation) and then release that water to your plants during the drier times, so that's another factor to consider.

Your best bet is to read as much as you can, then plant what you think will do well and keep some good records. In the end, gardening is mostly experimentation. Many gardeners, however, consider the experimentation part to be a lot of fun!

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There isn't really a formula for how much water you need to supply a particular plant in, say, a year or six months because so much depends on the environment and weather. You can certainly try googling descriptive things like 'plants for dry places', to get ideas about which plants would cope better in your situation, there are certainly books that advise on planting for specific areas. Otherwise, I'm afraid you're going to have to do it the hard way, the other way around - first, decide what plant/s you're interested in, then read about their cultural requirements, including moisture.

Otherwise, a few general rules are: You can be sure that bog plants require not only water, but to be permanently damp or wet, that willows will suck up every drop of moisture for miles around (they're thirsty), succulent leafed plants can cope a lot longer with drought, along with Yucca, and to some extent, Phormium. Be careful if using plants loosely called 'grasses' - that group includes the sedges and rushes, both of which prefer damper soil.

You need also to bear in mind that there are other requirements that plants have which may not be met by your soil and local weather conditions - things like soil ph, whether its sandy, shale or rocky, winter temperatures are too low, summer temperatures too high, too windy...

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  • @Pekka웃 - I see you're interested in vegetables - that might be a bit easier in terms of working out how much water they will need - books on veg growing often include an idea about how much water something needs. Usually, for most vegetables, its quite a lot, and regularly. – Bamboo Apr 3 '14 at 14:27

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