What to do When Rain Isn’t in the Forecast

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


Rain flowing through a rain chain

Rain is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “water falling in drops condensed from vapor in the atmosphere,” but gardeners and farmers know it is so much more.

An adage often heard in my climate is, “You can water, but it’s not the same as rain falling from the sky.” As someone who uses a drip watering system, I can attest to this. There is nothing like rain. Why is rain so important? After reading several scholarly articles on the subject, I still don’t completely understand all the benefits of rain, but I can tell you this:

  • Our plants and climate are set up for varying rain events. Too little rain creates drought. Too much can cause plants some disease problems from fungal overgrowth.
  • Nitrogen fixation occurs through lightning strikes and microorganisms. Raindrops contain nitrogen-bearing molecules, partly from air pollutants in the atmosphere, but also because of lightning. This nitrogen fixation benefits our plants in many ways.
  • Rain falls over a broad area of the land so that all plants, insects and microorganisms benefit. Watering is more targeted moisture.


Raindrops fall into a birdbath


Some plants, like rain lilies are so dependent upon rainfall that they usually won’t bloom until after a thunderstorm. As if by magic, suddenly rain lilies dot the landscape. Watering does help their foliage to stay green in a dry climate though.




Most of our gardens can’t completely depend upon rain. Those of you in rainy climates . . . you can’t imagine what it’s like to go months without any significant rainfall. For southern gardens, that’s a common occurrence. In my state, most of our rain falls in middle spring and then in fall. It’s a long hot summer in between. So, instead of hanging up our trowels in frustration, southern gardeners have figured out ways to deal with drought.

When you plan a new garden area, include a watering system. Drip irrigation is usually best because it targets the water to your plants’ roots without wasting this valuable resource. However, these systems can be investments because they require trenching areas to place irrigation lines.


Trenches must be dug to install an irrigation system


Soaker hoses also work well by allowing water to weep along the length of the hose. With hard well water like mine, soaker hoses must be replaced in a couple of seasons. Whether you use a sprinkler, a drip system, or soaker hoses, implement them before you plant anything. Drip irrigation also keeps leaves dry and mitigates fungal problems. If you don’t believe me, try using a sprinkler on a rose bush and note when blackspot begins.

Water in the morning for less evaporation. Mornings are generally less windy, and by watering early, the plant can fill its cells before the hottest part of the day.

Watch your plants, especially newer additions, for stress. A plant with drooping foliage can either be under or overwatered. Stick your index finger or trowel into the soil and note its moisture content to determine whether your plants need additional water. Even with a good system, there are times when I must hand water my plants.

If you are fortunate enough to have an irrigation system with a timer, know your system well and use it intelligently. In a dry climate, nothing is worse than seeing a sprinkler system running in the middle of a rain event. It is a frustrating waste.

Take note of your city’s water restrictions, if any, and plan your irrigation accordingly. Most people overwater their plants. It is better to water less frequently, but deeply. This encourages strong root growth.


Fiskars has great rain barrels in colors to blend in with your home


Have rain barrels or other types of rain harvesting systems at the ready. Fiskars has a connecting set with a diverter so you can install more than one rain barrel at a time. Most houses need several.

Mulch your plants. Run from dyed and synthetic mulches like rubber. Stick with shredded leaves, composted materials, straw or other organic matter than decays over time. It helps your plants maintain moisture now and then breaks down later feeding the soil.


A beautiful rainbow over green trees in a cloudy sky


While water will never replace rain, it ensures your garden’s survival during drought. Water wisely, and your garden will reward you with blooms once the rainy season and rainbows return.