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How To Beat the Drought in the Garden

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After long periods of low rainfall, one of the first areas where ordinary people are affected is in the ban on hosepipes and a shortage of water for gardening. Drought is more easily prevented than treated and with some forward planning and a slight change of routine, we can minimise the long-term affects.
The first point is: don’t waste water! Water from washing-up or rising vegetables can be used on the garden, as normal amounts of household detergents will not harm the soil or plants. Do this automatically rather than pouring down the sink. Bath and shower water can also be recycled for garden use.
Mature trees and shrubs, climbers, hedges and fruit trees seldom need weekly watering but newly planted ones are vulnerable if there is a shortage of water. Create a low bank of soil around the base of the plant for ‘ponding’ and add the water slowly to the surface of the soil so it soaks the rootball and surrounding soil. Resist the urge to leave a hosepipe running as the water trickles away in all the wrong directions.
Newly planted hedges are also vulnerable and can lose foliage if not watered regularly – conifer hedges often developing bare patches. Utilise the daily bath water for keeping the soil at the base of the hedge damp.
Without watering, fruit trees will produce smaller fruits that will be prone to falling. Cane fruit and strawberries will benefit from watering every fortnight to keep the soil moist.
Forward planning means adding mulch to the base of plants during the winter months to help improve the soil and retain more moisture.
Avoid sowing a new lawn (grass seed) until September as this requires an enormous amount of water to get things growing. Mature lawns will quickly recover even if they’ve turned brown through lack of water.
A large number of herbs come from the Mediterranean regions and can tolerate periods of drought. If growing in pots near the kitchen door, tip the washing-up water into the pots. Plants in small containers are particularly vulnerable during hot weather, and peat-based composts that dry out too much are extremely difficult to re-wet.
Vegetables require a lot of watering during the growth period so reserve the water in the butts for the kitchen garden. Digging in organic matter during the winter can help soil retain enough water for crops to keep growing with no rain.
Flower beds and borders might be better planted up with drought-resisting plants such as grasses, Mediterranean-type shrubs such as thymes, or plants with spiky or succulent leaves. Plants that originate in regions of low rainfall often have special adaptations, such as hairy, sticky, glossy, narrow, or fleshy leaves that helps to reduce water loss.
Invest in good-sized water butt(s) and don’t waste rainwater that comes off shed and garage roof. Each butt should have a tap and a lid to keep out insects and leaves that will pollute the water and block the tap. Raise the butts on blocks to allow room for a watering can to fit below the tap. Keep butts topped up with tap-water if necessary to dilute the acid-rain.
Once a plant begins to wilt, its growth rate has already begun to slow down and even well-established garden plants suffer during prolonged drought, although no perceptible damage may be seen for some time. Mulching the surface of the soil improves rain penetration and minimises evaporation. Ironically, according to the RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening, moderate drought may improve the flavour of some fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes.
Grouping pots and containers of a similar size together can make watering easier, and reduce moisture loss.
Large saucers under pots and containers helps to retain excess water
Shade greenhouse and conservatories to limit over-heating and evaporation.


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