Lettuce Planting seed starting

3 Ways to Plant in Dry Conditions – Make That 4

The ideal time to begin fall succession planting (in zone 7 at least) is mid-August if conditions will allow.

In years past, because of drought, it was October before I could transplant September- started seedlings to the garden. The big disadvantage to that is that you miss the late summer warmth that allows crops to grow enough to have an abundant harvest by October.

Rain was plentiful this summer. Made me think the fall planting season would be the easier than ever. The first planting definitely WAS.

Radishes germinated within a couple of day. Lettuces started mid August and transplanted the end of August are now fabulous and giving me a big bowl of lettuce daily. Had I missed that first start in August under great conditions, I wouldn’t be getting lettuce or radishes in the abundance that I love.

Three varieties of lettuce started in mid-August, my first planting for fall.


I pick this much lettuce every other day from the lettuce bed shown above this picture. Even without rain for more than a month it renews itself every day.

The rain stopped at August’s end. The first few inches of soil has been desert-dry since the first of September. Rain has been in and (disappointingly) out of the forecast more times than I can count.

Succession planting has to be continued anyway or I won’t have an abundant harvest late fall, through the winter and into early spring.

Here are the strategies I’ve used that you might find helpful as well.

#1 – Gives me the Best Results

  • Choose your spot.

Rain water gives the best results. Since my reserve is low I usually choose a small 3′ x 5′ section to plant using this strategy.

  • Soak the area with rain water. (This is the secret to this method.)

I hauled in about five gallons of rain water to soak the soil in the area chosen. (I use 5 gallon buckets half filled because it’s all I can carry.)

  • Cover with straw and let it settle overnight.

You wouldn’t have to wait, but my “gut” feeling said I should; so I did.

  • Transplant (You can also use this strategy to direct-sow seed.)

Next day I brushed back the straw. Ran my 3 pronged tool through the top couple of inches of soil. Put the transplants in. Watered them in with rain water.

  • Cover again with a light layer of straw.

If you have enough rain water,

  • water again in one or two days.

After that you can probably go at least 5 days, or maybe more, without watering the seedlings. And with these cool nights they might just make if fine even without rain.  Most of mine did.

Two rows of Winter Density seedling and a row of radishes of the far side using Strategy #1.  The radishes were direct seeded. Lettuce seedlings were transplanted Sept. 16. No rain yet.

#2 – Watering after planting

  • Choose the area.
  • Direct sow your seed. (Or put in transplants)
  • Cover lightly with straw and then water well with rain water.
  • Water every other day if you have enough water.

I watered a bed using this strategy 3 days in a row using about 1 1/2 gallons of water on a 3 x 5 space.

Ran out rain water. Seedlings are still doing ok, but if we get rain they will “jump”.

#3 –  Should you wait for Rain?

Long time reader and good friend Pat recently wrote:

Our weather has been very warm here, and SO dry!  I cleared a bed for fall plantings, but I want to wait for rain.  It’s in the forecast for this weekend.  BUT I’m getting ready for a trip to San Diego to visit family next week.  I think I will just wait til I get back.

Here’s what I suggested:

Right now you need as much fall growth as possible to go into winter. And a week or so will make a difference.

Go ahead and do the plantings (I assume you are direct sowing seed) and cover lightly with straw (or grass clippings, etc.) While you’re away it will rain and you’ll probably have seedlings up when you get back.

This morning I got another email from Pat:

I got the snap peas, chard, German giant radish, and collards planted early yesterday.  Then the rain came!!!  Hallelujah!  And there will be more on the way. 

Bonus Strategy

And then she mentioned another strategy that she thought of because she didn’t have time before her trip to clear more space in the garden for her spinach and kale.

I’m thinking of starting spinach and kale in my self watering planter.  My hubby won’t have to remember to water it!  And I can transplant them later.

Final Thoughts

Since we can’t know the future, waiting for perfect conditions is almost always a poor strategy.

And although we don’t know which of our actions (or plantings) will bear fruit and which will not, one thing we know for sure:

If we don’t plant, we won’t harvest.


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  • Theresa, your encouragement was the catalyst that made me get the planting done! I am so grateful for that. We got some really good, gentle, soaking rain all day yesterday. Thank you for being there for me!

  • Theresa,
    I guess it is tricky to plant cool crops in the fall as well as in the spring? It seems like timing is almost everything provided the ground is well prepared for the plants. I planted carrots in late July they will be sparse at best. At the same time I planted beets three came up. Late August I planted peas I am expecting them to blossom in a few days but the amount of daylight may hinder them.

    Wishing you all the best from your fall produce

  • I hope the rain came for you, Theresa. We had a bit on Sunday here. #3 was quite insightful. I have never thought about planning for the rain in this way. Your lettuce looks very happy – I would love to have some of my own. I can’t wait to get rid of our pest problem so I can get back to planting. We plan to try burning the area to free us of this horrid black widow trouble. It should be happening as soon as things dry out. I am unsure if the beds will be good for spring planting, however. Do you have any thoughts on this?

  • Glad for that Pat! Thanks for letting me know.

    Steve, as you already know we are indeed subject to the variables that nature hands us in any season. And fall can be tricky and timing is certainly an important factor.

    Somethings do great, but as you said as daylight decreases we are not going to get the robust and quick growth that comes in spring. Nonetheless, we can get enough to take us through fall, have sporadic harvest in winter, and have earlier crops in the spring because of fall planting.

    Returning your good wishes for a great fall harvest, Steve!

    Patricia, I have no thoughts except I think you’ll be fine. Hope the burning will resolve your problem.

    I sure appreciate your mention of your finding #3 insightful. I hope others found it so as well.


  • Hi Theresa, slow going down in Florida. When I started turning my soil after our rain drenched summer I found that the sand came up to the top of the garden. I shoveled some of that out to my flower beds and added my compost, the not quite done stuff we discussed. We are still in the mid 90s with high humidity. I did seed some carrots, lettuce and spinach in the garden. Not sure if they will come up but I should know any day. I bought some tomato plants, a cucumber plant and green beans at a nursery and those plants are doing very well.
    They say later this week we will only be in the high 80s and I am looking forward to the relief. If the temps go up again I think I will cover my garden to keep the plants from burning up.
    I can’t wait for my lettuce and spinach, it’s been too long.

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