The recent heat wave has been a massive wake-up call to many people, especially anyone that grows a garden, large or small. Watering in hot weather can become a full time job, not to mention the dilemma of using precious drinking water from our taps to saturate our gardens.
If you have a new garden, then planting and growing with drought in mind is a good idea. But there are also ways we can make our gardens better resistant to drought by choosing our plants carefully, looking after our garden soil and adapting the way we look after our plots. Even established gardens can be prepared for warmer climes, lesser rainfall and even drought.
The secret to a healthy garden lies in the soil. Improve your garden soil before planting, as deep as you can so that your plants can put down their roots deeper and access moisture lower down in the soil. You can add leaf mould, homemade garden compost or soil conditioner that will help the soil structure, improve drainage and soil fertility and prepare your plants and gardens for hot weather. You can also apply organic matter as a deep mulch but it is very important to apply a mulch when the soil is wet and saturated and not in dry weather or it will prevent any rainfall from reaching the soil.
We often grow plants that hail from hotter climates and these plants are actually adapted to their local conditions. So if you choose to grow plants from areas with less rainfall and with drier climates you will be planting things better able to cope with drought. Plants can give you visual signals that they are better suited to hot weather. Succulents, leathery leaved plants, silver leaved plants, hairy leaved plants and spiny plants have developed ways to reduce water loss from their leaves, and keep leaves cooler. That doesn’t mean they thrive on neglect, but it does mean when well established that they can survive in hotter, drier weather. For more information on good plants to grow check out our feature here.
Saving water/Grey water
Using precious drinking water to keep our plants and gardens alive seems incredibly wasteful. There are other ways to keep our gardens hydrated and reduce the drain on water supplies. First we can collect rainwater into a water butt or even into large buckets or containers. Rainwater is better for our plants and gardens and for wildlife. It is easily collected via the guttering and downpipes on our homes, sheds or even the greenhouse. But we can also use grey water to water the ornamental (not edible) areas of our gardens. Keep a watering can outside the back door to fill with cooled, non-greasy washing up water or the water used for washing fruit and vegetables. You can also siphon cool bath water into the garden and use this to water trees and shrubs. It is safer to avoid using grey water on herbs, fruits and vegetables just in case there are any unfriendly microbes present. If you can use ecological washing liquids then this is better for your garden too. It’s also worth investigating whether you can siphon cool bath water from your bathroom out into the garden, again this should only be used to water ornamental areas of the garden.
If you’ve got a lawn already and it forms the heart of your garden, that’s fine. In dry weather when there is little rain, it may start to go brown. Established lawns rarely die in a drought and most do not need watering. It’s a good idea not to use any lawn treatments during a hot spell, and raise the cutting height of your mower and cut less often to avoid stressing the lawn. See our summer lawn care article for more information. But if you have a new plot you might want to consider not having a lawn at all and instead making a gravel garden where plants can self seed and establish. Good drainage in case of heavy rain is also an important consideration.
If you have plants growing in pots and planters you already know that they need a lot of watering and regular feeding. They are totally reliant on you for their growing needs. But there are a few tricks you can use to make them less high maintenance, more drought resistant and easier to care for. Choose large planters. They take longer to dry out. Choose containers that are not porous, so that water doesn’t evaporate from the surface of the pot. But good drainage is still important. Use Wetting Agent in your water when watering which will help the water be properly absorbed by the compost. Add Container Magic as you plant. Mix it into your planting compost, it contains water retaining crystals that will hold onto moisture to release it to your plants in dry weather and it has controlled release nutrients that feed your plants gradually over several weeks after planting.