With summer well under way, gardens will need more water than the rain is giving them, but how can you minimise the amount you apply, make best use of what you’ve got and still have a good-looking and productive garden?
If possible, wait until the autumn to plant out trees, shrubs and climbers – it will be far harder for them to establish properly now and they are more likely to suffer serious setbacks. However, if you can’t avoid planting, improve the soil texture by digging and forking in plenty of garden compost, well-rotted manure or other bulky organic matter so that the soil is better equipped to retain moisture – sandy soil will then hold water more effectively whilst clay soil is less likely to crack. It may be hard work but it will make life a lot easier for the plants, and means you will spend far less time watering later on.
It is still well worthwhile mulching beds, borders and your vegetable plot. The mulch needs to be 2” – 3” (5 – 7.5 cm) deep and you can use shredded composted bark, composted chipped bark, cocoa shells or many of the numerous pebbles, shingles and so forth which are now available. If the soil is well watered before the mulch goes on, then it will really help to keep moisture in the soil and, as all the materials I’ve suggested will let plenty of rain through, when it does rain the plants will still benefit. Mulching will also help to keep down weeds.
In drier areas of your garden, try to use drought tolerant plants. Those with silvery or grey foliage such as the lavenders, Sedums (ice plants), rock roses (Helianthemum), rosemary and Convolvulus cneorum all tend to thrive in dry conditions, and are also more likely to do quite well if planted now.
Make the most of any rainfall by fitting a water diverter to the drain pipe which takes water from the guttering from your greenhouse, house, conservatory or garage, and divert the rain straight into one or more water butts. You can also fit a water diverter to the downpipe which takes water from your bath, hand basin or kitchen sink. Normal amounts of shampoo, bubble bath and washing up liquid should pose no threats to plants, and these detergents may help with pest problems such as greenfly.
Unless there’s no alternative, always water in the evening or extremely early in the morning, which drastically reduces the amount of water lost through evaporation, and means that there is far less chance of foliage or flowers getting scorched – as can happen if they are wetted in bright sunlight.
Where possible use a watering can or hose with a gentle nozzle attachment and water only the areas where the water is needed. If the soil is very dry before you start to water, then sprinkle the surface gently with a light drizzling of water and return a few minutes later – you will find that the water penetrates down to the roots much more effectively. Excessive watering on a very dry surface is likely to lead to a lot of run off and wastage.
By Pippa Greenwood