Beat the drought

The lovely summer sunshine can present watering challenges in the garden. Here are five ways to see your garden through a dry spell.

Colourful planted containers

We don’t often get a long, lovely hot summer. But when we do it can create extra work in the garden and bring other concerns. For established plants in the beds and borders, a dry spell isn’t usually an issue, you can look for signs of wilting and distress and water if necessary, but most plants will have got their roots deep down into the soil where moisture remains. But for fruiting crops, anything newly planted and pots and containers, you will need to be attentive and ready to water. There are lots of ways to make water work harder in your garden and tricks to help you be more water wise. Here are five different ways to water better, save water and keep your garden alive in a drought.

Container tricks

Summer containers are often the highest maintenance things in a summer garden. And that’s because they are totally dependent on you for food and water. By choosing larger planters when you plant, you can add more compost and that will take longer to dry out than the compost in smaller pots and planters. In extreme heat, move your planters into the shade, this will slow the evaporation of water. Group them together to make them easier to water and where possible place them into large saucers or trays that will catch any water run off and help them soak up moisture from this reservoir. In hot weather keep the saucers topped up in the evening so that your plants can soak up the water at night. Using top quality compost designed for pots and containers is a great way to ensure your plants grow strong and healthy. It also contains water saving crystals or gel that hold moisture in the compost. Richard’s Flower Power Premium Container Magic is a mix of highly tuned fertiliser and some water retaining gel, everything your container-grown plants need. And for even better results if you add Richard’s Flower Power Premium Wetting Agent to your watering can it will help wet your compost thoroughly and get the water to the plant roots where it is needed the most.

Container Magic 500g
The water retaining gel in Container Magic will help the compost to hold moisture.

Water thieves

Take a close look at your pots containers and even in your beds and borders and pull out plants that shouldn’t be there. Usually these are weeds, though sometimes they are self-seedlings or wildflowers. Be selective depending on your gardening style but remove anything that is either crowding your plants or competing for water because these are water thieves. When you want every drop to count and go to the plants you are growing, removing competition is a good thing to do. But there’s a caveat. It’s important not to disturb the soil surface too much, so don’t dig them out exposing moist soil to the sun, it’s important to keep soil disturbance to a minimum to preserve the soil structure and keep any inherent moisture deep in the soil. So remove the roots of the offending thief carefully but completely to ensure every drop of water you add works for the plants you want to grow.

Gardener removing weed with handtool
Carefully remove weeds from your containers, beds and borders to ensure the plants you want to keep get the water they need.

Directional watering

When you apply water around and above the roots of your plants, a certain amount will evaporate and never reach the thirsty roots below. For plants growing in the ground is much better to water thoroughly once a week than superficially every day. And that’s because if you continually wet the soil surface it encourages roots to grow in this zone and does little to benefit the deeper roots. And the trouble with that is that shallow roots or surface roots are far more susceptible to drying out in hot weather like we have now. I rarely water plants in my garden. I prefer to treat them hard and make them search for water deeper in the ground. When I do have to water, first I water once to wet the surface and then I go back and water more thoroughly. When I plant individual plants I like to make a moat around them so that when I do water the water sits in the moat and soaks into the soil above and around the roots. It prevents water running off and being wasted.

colour group of planted containers
Group patio pots together for easy watering and use saucers to catch any run-off that the roots can then take up later.

Mulch and magic

A garden mulch will help conserve soil moisture in the garden and for your containers but ONLY if you apply it when the soil is saturated. If you apply a mulch now, even to recently watered soil, it will actually prevent moisture from reaching your plant roots. The very best time to apply a garden mulch is February after the winter rains and before the soil starts to warm up. A mulch is an incredibly powerful gardening technique to use but only if it is used correctly. Learn from this season that the mulch needs to be in place for spring and you will reap its power to reduce surface weeds, insulate plant roots against extreme heat and cold and reduce water evaporation from the soil surface. You can even make your own mulch from well-rotted garden compost.

Mulching around plant in spring
A garden mulch applied in February will help to retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Recycle water

Watering our plants with drinking water seems bonkers. That’s why most real gardeners redirect rainwater from the roof of their homes, greenhouses and sheds into water butts. Rainwater is better for our plants than tap water and it’s free. But there are other sources of water we can use in our gardens. If you use eco washing up liquid you can pour your washing up water into a watering can kept outside the kitchen door. It’s best if this water isn’t too greasy and you need to restrict it’s use for ornamental and not edible plants just to be safe. But you can use the water you wash your fruit and vegetables in to water your herbs and other edibles. You can siphon off the water you boiled your eggs in and even the water that you used for cut flowers. It can all be put to good use in the garden. Your bath water can be siphoned out into the garden for use, when cool, on ornamental plants and if you are able to take the final rinse water from the washing machine, this can be used too. There are lots of ways to save water, recycle water and help your garden thrive in a drought. We’d love to know your best tips for beating the drought. Do let us know.

watering container plants with water from washing fruit
Use water you’ve washed your fruit and vegetables in to water plants.
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