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Drought Tolerant Vegetables

Corn dry farmed1

Corn dry farmedIf you live where water is scarce, choose vegetables that do not demand a lot of water. Here are drought tolerant vegetable varieties that are very good performers. One note, even plants that do not require a lot of water, do require water to germinate and begin growing. Once these plants are well established, they will not need regular water.

Vegetable varieties for dry gardens:

Amaranth: green leaves used as vegetables; use thinnings raw in salad, steam like spinach.

Moth bean: nutty flavor, popular in India.

Garbanzo bean, also called chickpea: bean for making humus and use in salads.

Tepary bean: grows in desert and near desert conditions, a common bean.

Black-eyed pea, also called cowpeas: use bean to make vegetable soup.

Yard-long asparagus bean: long, thin, crunchy pod often used in Chinese cooking.

Snap beans and pole beans: require a short growing season and can draw on residual soil water.


Black Aztec corn: use black kernels for roasting.


Mustard greens: tangy, spicy salad green.

Purslane: use as a salad green.

New Zealand spinach: a warm weather spinach use just as cool-weather spinach.

Pearson tomato: old fashion flavor, used often for canning.

Early Girl tomato: medium size, tasty.

Super Roma tomato, Golden Nugget tomato.

Sugar Baby watermelon: sweet tasting ice box watermelon.

Planting. Set plants at least 1½ times or greater the spacing distance recommended on seed packets. When fewer plants are in the garden there will be more water to go around. For example, tomatoes that might normally be planted on 4 foot centers should be planted on 5 or 6 foot centers. (It is important to note that seeds must germinate under normal conditions; that is they must receive moisture to begin life and grow. Give seeds and seedlings all the water they need until they are established.)

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.


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  1. I was planning to use amaranth as a trellis for bean plants this year. My amaranth plants finally got to 1 foot tall, and I noticed today that the amaranth is starating to get a flower stalk. It hasn’t had any branching yet. Would cutting off the flower stalk aloe the plant to get taller, or would the flower stalk perhaps be strong enough to hold up the bean plants? Or should I just give up on planting beans over there?

    • Let the plants grow tall with their flowers–don’t rush to plant beans at the foot of your amaranth until the plants are 4′ tall or greater. Beans are vigorous growers and may outpace the amaranth. You can also plant corn as a “trellis” for beans.

  2. I have red amaranth planted that seems to be doing very well. Suddenly several of the leaves have started turning green. We have had 4 days with average highs of over 100 degrees, continuing in the mid 90s now. Could this be caused by sunburn? Is there anything else it might be?

    • There are many cultivated varieties of amaranth. If you are growing a cultivated variety–the plant may be reverting back to a parent with green leaves. As long as the leaves are green, photosynthesis should continue and the plant will thrive. Generally, sunburn will result in leaves turning white to scorched brown.

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