Oh it’s hot and dry at last.
But we’ll get the doom prophets and the naysayers who’ll bemoan the weather.
I’m going to ignore the subject of whether the weather is good or bad for us and just stick to the fact that it is warm, it has been a bit arid, and we need to adopt certain measures to deal with it.
As gardeners, growers of edibles and ornamentals, we are used to compromise. Pruning things to restrict growth, changing soil to suit and more are all par for this particular course we choose to play.
Water is a luxury we can be forgiven for taking for granted. It’s always available. At home it’s at the end of a hose pipe, just the twist of a tap away.
At the plot, if you are lucky as I am, it’s from a trough, a cattle trough with a cistern. Mains water direct to your plants via a dipped watering can. At worst, it’s a water butt collecting rain water from a shed or greenhouse roof. I’ve read of plot holders who share a small number of taps with a large site, suffering low pressure and queues, those who transport large containers of water by car to their remote plots.
However you get your water, we will all at some point find there simply isn’t enough.
Let’s have a look at ways of conserving what we do have, using less and providing ways in which we can reduce the demand for it.
- Look at the ways you waste water. Change them. Stop leaving the tap or hose running, Put the plug in when you shower and then use the water collected for plants. Soaps and detergent s in general won’t do too much harm but if in doubt, dilute it further and don’t use for anything you grow to eat.
- Reduce the water you lose from the garden itself after or during watering. Evaporation is a big water loser. Mulch after watering, direct water to a point, at the stem or directly to the roots via pipe or empty pot sunk to root level. Avoid leaving a wet or damp surface as it will wick water away from the soil as it evaporates from the surface.
- Grow plants that are less thirsty or lose less through their leaves (transpiration). Grow plants to increase the deep roots, so avoid watering little and often or on the soil surface. This creates short, shallow roots which cannot source water easily from the soil and rely entirely on you. Giving a good drenching when planting, watering to the roots as described and watering less frequently. Make the plants delve deeper to find the water table.
- It may sound obvious but don’t water when it as at the hottest point of the day. Warm the water. It sounds daft but imagine spending the day on a hot, sunny beach then being soaked in ice cold water. Fill the watering can then leave it near to the plants you will be watering so it can acclimatise.
- Make a sponge out of your soil. Add lots of soil conditioners that hold water and release it slowly, deep down at the roots. Lots of what garden advisors and professionals call humus. Material that has broken down naturally and is fibrous and light when dry. Rotted stable or farm manure, composted kitchen and garden waste (compost) or leaf mould from rotted or decayed leaves. Try to avoid materials that dry out and are hard to re-wet, such as peat or coir.
- Before you water, check if the plants actually need it. Stick a finger deep into the soil and check if it is damp. If it is, don’t water. If the leaves are drooping and limp, wait until it is cooler later in the day and check again. Sometimes it is heat, not thirst that is the problem.
- Use shade to reduce the temperature and water loss. Try planting to provide natural shade, see if the plants will grow in partial shade. A surprising number of vegetables will.
- My pet hate, stop watering your lawn! An established lawn will have a complex root system designed to survive almost anything we throw at it, including prolonged drought. Stop cutting it too short and let it go brown, even yellow.
- Reuse household water. We get all our household water from one source. Mains water, treated and purified for drinking, is the same water used to flush toilets, wash clothes and cars, fill radiators and heating systems. We only need purified water for eating and drinking purposes. Try to reuse as much water as possible and let nothing go down the plug hole to join sewer water.
- Finally, if you’re a keen grower at home you will probably have at least a lawn, possibly borders too to the front of your home. Far beneath that will be natural water courses which carry water draining through the soil layers to reservoirs, rivers, lakes and other natural water points. Replacing your lawn or soil with tarmac or concrete means rain water will run off to gutters and soakaways, to go directly into sewers along with toilet waste, rainwater running off roofs and out of baths. When we see images of bone dry reservoirs and a few months later horrendous floods, this is why. If you must have a driveway, use a fast draining material that allows the rain water to drain through into the soil and away naturally.
Not all of these tips will apply to you and your world but share them, change the people and the environment around you.
Get water wise.
Heavy mulch over moisture retentive soil.
Water pots and pipes, directing water to the roots and not the surface/
Cardboard, then grass clippings and compost to hold water deep at root level.
Deep down beneath the mulch, the new potatoes were cool and damp and growing really happily, despite never having been watered, other than by rainfall.