What you plant can influence how well your garden survives dry conditions. Choose wisely and your garden will be able to better withstand droughts and hosepipe bans.
- Choose plants that are suited to your soil.
- Where possible, buy the larger sized plants with well-established root systems that will withstand a little hardship. Also buy with care – plants that have been grown and cared for well will fare better in dry conditions.
- Summer bedding plants will need extra care if the weather is very dry, so consider planting varieties that are more tolerant of drought. Pelargoniums (Geraniums) and Begonias are two plants that will tolerate dry conditions as are many of the half hardy perennials, such as Verbena, Diascia and Bacopa (Sutera), popular in containers and baskets.
- When planting a border, consider using plants with silvery, glossy, hairy, narrow or fleshy leaves – these are usually much more drought tolerant.
How you plant can also have an effect on your garden during a drought. Give your plants the best chance by following these few simple tips.
- Plant early. Try to avoid carrying out major planting schemes through late spring or summer, when the weather is likely to be drier. Aim to plant in autumn or early spring; the plants can establish while the soil is still warm and before water is in short supply.
- Poorly drained soils can prevent food being absorbed. Dig in composted bark, or in severe cases, grit, to improve.
- Apply sufficient fertiliser – plants use water most efficiently when nutrient levels are adequate. But don’t apply too much as this will encourage too much lush growth (which will require more water to remain healthy).
- When planting out vegetables such as brassicas, beans and squashes, ‘puddle’ them in. Take out a small planting hole, large enough to take the root ball, and water the base well. Put the well watered plants in and back fill the hole with the dry soil. The moisture will stay around the roots of the plants and evaporate more slowly. Again, water thoroughly a couple of times a week rather than every night.
- Consider planting in containers or baskets. They require less water to thrive (especially when using water-retaining gels and mulch). Be careful though, as they have smaller roots and can dry out quicker. If a basket or container looks overly dry (the compost is pale and shrunk from the sides) stand in a bucket or pan to revive.
Rather than relying on what’s coming out of the tap, we recommend using what nature gives you and using rain water to look after your garden. The earlier you start collecting water the better! Take advantage of spring downpours and early summer showers, storing as much rain as you can. A well-positioned water butt (with a tap) will soon fill up with rain water and makes it easy to use what you’ve accumulated. Be sure to add water-purifying tablets to stop water from stagnating.
When you water, water wisely and make the best use of every available drop by watering only those plants which are really in need. These include young plants, containers, vegetables and fruit.
- Water well a couple of times a week; one good soak directed to the root ball will keep plants alive through severely dry weather.
- Don’t water too forcefully. Avoid directing a jet of water at the base of a plant as this will wash away the soil and expose the roots. Use a watering can rather than a hose if possible. If you can’t, make a hollow around the base of the plant and fill with water.
- Water in the evening so that less water will evaporate. Watering during a hot day can also scorch delicate plants.
- Water shrubs, trees and other permanent or established planting only when absolutely necessary (when leaves on the plants begin to curl and drop). Dropping leaves are part of a plant’s mechanism to prevent water loss and they will recover quickly once it rains or they are watered.
Watering your lawn
Use a sprinkler if you must water your lawn and avoid overwatering by placing a jar next to the sprinkler and move it once it has 2.5cm of water in it. If a hosepipe ban is introduced, don’t panic – a brown lawn will recover in autumn.
If your lawn is very dry, give it a helping hand with an aerator or fork. You can also raise the blades of your mower and reduce the frequency of cutting to reduce evaporation and help to keep the grass roots moist and cool.
If you’re going to be away from your garden over the summer months, you can still care for your garden, even if you’re not at home to do the job yourself. If you can, ask a friend or neighbour to do the watering for you.
Ensure your plants have the moisture they need
If you flood water your plants before you head away and cover with a mulch or compost, it will seal as much moisture in from evaporation and the water will saturate further down into the soil. This will encourage the plant roots to grow deeper and as the soil dries out from the top down will still find the moisture they need.
For potted plants and trays, you can use Capillary Matting although this is normally used for tray inserts, it can also be used to absorb water from a bucket or the sink to water the plants. The matting absorbs and holds the water, which is in turn drawn up by soil in pot plants positioned on the matting it to keep them moist as long as your silage permits.
Give your plants some shade
While you’re away, move containers into the shade to stop them scorching on any exceptionally hot days (even if you’re not away in the height of summer). Keeping them out of direct sunlight will also stop them from drying out as quickly.
Try an automatic self-watering system
You can opt for a self-watering-system. Once you have set up dripping pipes to your favourite hanging baskets, pots through beds and planters, simply attach it to a timer which will switch the water on however frequently you require. If you don’t need to water plants and pots you can also use a timer on a standard hose to top up bird baths, ponds or just get the sprinkler on the lawn. Don’t forget water at night to prevent scorching and evaporation of water.