to cope with drought|
It's only just April
and hosepipe bans are the topic of many a gardener's conversation.
After two of the driest winters on record, water authorities are
preparing the nation for water shortages this summer. So, what can
we gardener's do about it? Well, there's a range of measures you can
take to reduce your garden's need for water as well as techniques
you can employ to conserve the water you have.
You can collect
water from down pipes on your house, garage and greenhouse by
plumbing in a waterbutt or two. You
can make the process automatic by using one of the handy water diverter
kits. Bear in mind that it needs to rain to keep the butts
topped up and a typical butt may hold 150 litres of water which
would keep a row of tomatoes or pair of growing bags watered for
about six weeks. So you will need to target the water you save
carefully, or install a battery of butts to provide for all the
water needs of your garden. Another option is to recycle so called
'grey-water' from your house. This is the water that's been used for
washing-up, baths or in the washing machine. You will have to wait
for it to cool and transferring it to the right part of the garden
can be tricky. Ironically, the easiest method is to use a hose to
siphon the water to where it is needed, but this may in itself fall
foul of the hosepipe ban! There are several problems associated with
'grey-water' in the garden. The water inevitably will contain soaps
and detergents that are generally alkaline, so not suitable for
acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons and camellias. Some plants
are susceptible to the salts and chemicals 'grey-water' contains, so
I wouldn't advise using it on seedlings, rooting cuttings or very
young plants. Avoid applying it to the vegetable garden, too. Also,
bear in mind that on clay soil the soaps can increase the strength
of the bonds between the tiny particles, making the soil seem
stickier and harder to work.
the right plants
If you are starting a new
garden from scratch, are planting a new border, or just planning
this year's container displays, it makes sense to choose drought-tolerant
plants. Shrubs, such as buddleja, cotoneaster, cistus,
elaeagnus, lavender, Philadelphus microphyllus, Rosa rugosa, Rosa
rubrifolia and common lilac varieties all have a deserved reputation
for tolerating water shortages. Similarly, herbaceous plants, such
as achillea, artemisia, some euphorbias, nepeta, santolina and
stachys as well as rock plants like aubrieta, campanula and
sempervivum can cope well in dry soil. Bedding plants that recover
well from periods of drought include felicia, gazania, pelargonium,
helichrysum, marguerites, mesembryanthemum, nicotiana, ostespurmum,
petunia and portulaca. Useful to know if you've suffered losses
because of erratic watering in the past.
drought-tolerant plants will need to be watered regularly until they
are well established. Before planting make sure you add plenty of
well-rotted manure or garden compost to the soil and planting hole
to increase the water-holding capacity of the soil. If the soil is
dry at planting time, one useful technique to try is puddling-in.
Simply, soak the plant in its pot beforehand as normal, then fill
the planting hole with water too. Plop the soaked rootball into the
flooded planting hole and top up with soil. If the sun is strong,
shade all new plants with netting
to prevent them wilting. Ideally, plant as the sun goes down in the
evening to give the new plants a respite before the sun rises the
following morning. After planting it's also a good idea to cover the
soil with a generous layer of loose organic mulch
such as composted bark chippings or well-rotted garden compost. This
will not only prevent moisture evaporating from the soil's surface,
but will also reduced the need for weeding that inevitably disturbs
the soil, exposing more precious damp soil to the drying effects of
the sun. Gravel
and pebbles make a longer-lasting decorative mulch. If you are
on a tight budget, you can mulch effectively with other materials
too, such as black polythene, lawn clippings or pieces of old
carpet, but these can look unsightly and are best used at the back
of beds and borders.
Not all plants or parts of the
garden need to be watered even during a prolonged drought. The
biggest waste of water in UK gardens is on the lawn. Soaking it once
a week may keep the grass green and growing vigorously, but it is a
reckless misuse of this precious resource. Grass is well-adapted to
coping with drought, so allow it to dry and turn brown during the
summer months. It will soon green-up again with the autumn rains.
Brown grass also doesn't need mowing, so you'll save time and effort
Some plants will need regular watering to
survive (see below), but even here you can reduce the amount of
water you use by applying it accurately around the base of the plant
so that only the root zone is soaked. Try creating a ridge of soil
around individual plants to form a circular barrier that will
prevent the water running off before it's had time to soak in. Or
sink an empty pot rim-deep into the soil alongside thirsty plants so
that you can fill this with water instead. Rows of plants are easier
to water using special leaky hoses hidden under the surface of the
soil, or you could drill holes in a piece of guttering and use this
instead - unless, of course, your local authority has banned these
watering aids too! For deeper-rooting plants such as new trees and
shrubs, sink a 30cm (12in) piece of drilled drainpipe alongside the
rootball so that the water is delivered exactly where it is needed.
Make sure you water thoroughly once a week, rather than sprinkling
on the water in smaller amounts more often. Thorough watering will
ensure the soil is soaked right down to the root-zone and since the
surface will be wetted less often there will be less water lost
through evaporation. For the same reason, it's also worth watering
in the evening, rather than at other times of the day.
Although disturbing the soil when weeding brings damp
soil to the surface, more water is removed by the weeds if they are
left to grow and set seed. The secret is to hoe regularly, removing
weeds as seedlings. Some gardener's swear that by having a loose dry
surface layer to the soil creates a 'dust mulch' that helps prevent
moisture being lost from the soil underneath - but I think the
jury's still out on that one.
- All new plants - water thoroughly, once a
week throughout a summer drought and as necessary thereafter.
- Container plants - water routinely every
day during the summer.
- Bog gardens - keep moist at all times.
- Leafy vegetable crops - need regular
watering to keep producing succulent leaves and stems.
- Vegetable crops with pods or tubers -
water is essential when pods or tubers are swelling.
- Fruiting trees, bushes and canes -
water is essential when fruits are swelling.
Wetting dry compost
If a peat-based compost in a container
has been allowed to dry out it can be very difficult to re-wet. To
overcome this problem, either stand the plant in a bowl of water for
24 hours until the compost soaks up the water, or try throwing a
handful of ice-blocks on the top of the rootball. The ice-blocks
will slowly melt soaking the surface layer of the compost, so that
it readily absorbs water once more. Alternatively, use 'grey-water'
left over from the washing-up because the detergent will help the
water soak into the dry compost.