How can I deal with drought

It’s been hot, hot, hot in the garden, says Geoff Hodge, but all is not lost

Sunworshipper Image: Geoff Hodge
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So, how’s your garden fared in the heatwave? Possibly, more importantly, how’s the dried out state of the garden affecting your wellbeing?! The sight of plants wilting and dropping their leaves like it’s already autumn to reduce their water use can be very dispiriting – even depressing.

Watering with a watering can could take you forever and may play havoc with your back and give you arms like Charles Atlas!

A hosepipe will make it so much quicker – and with Richard Jackson’s Easy Feeder you can take care of watering and feeding your plants all at the same time. But watering with a hosepipe can be very expensive if you’re on a water meter, and what do you do if there’s a hosepipe ban!

There’s some great advice on how to water your garden properly by Andy McIndoe

Sun loving agapanthus
Image: Geoff Hodge

This would be a great time to review the situation and make plans to make your life a lot easier should dry weather trends continue – especially if some of the forecasts for climate change are correct.

Lavender is a summer stalwart
Image: Geoff Hodge

Drought busters

One of the best ways to reduce your watering is to use drought-resistant plants. These have developed very clever ways to reduce how much water they need to survive prolonged dry periods. And there are lots of them.

Just be aware that most are only able to resist water shortages once they are established in the ground. So it’s important to ensure even drought resistors are watered in well after planting – giving them a good soaking once a week to ensure they become established as quickly as possible.

So, when buying plants, look out for plants with drought-resisting properties. These include:

Fleshy or succulent leaves – which store water.

Sedum thrive in a hot dry summer
Image: Geoff Hodge

Leathery or waxy leaves – which are protected from water loss.

Hairy leaves – the hairs trap moisture around the leaves.

Silvery or grey leaves.

Thin, grass-like or otherwise reduced, small leaves.

And don’t show off and buy the biggest plants you can find. Smaller plants in smaller pots will establish more quickly than larger ones, needing less water, and actually soon overtake bigger plants.

There are even lots of summer bedding plants that perform well and recover quickly from periods of drought, including felicia, gazania, helichrysum, marguerites, mesembryanthemum, nicotiana, pelargonium, osteospermum, petunia and portulaca.

Perfect planning prevents poor performance

While this is a great time to plan your tactics for reducing your future watering, it’s not a great time to start re-stocking the garden with new plants. If the soil is dry and the temperatures still hot, they won’t establish well or quickly. Save up your pennies and wait until autumn – nature’s natural time for planting. The soil will still be warm so roots grow and establish quickly.

That makes autumn a great time to plant, especially when the rain comes, but leave anything that is borderline hardy until early spring. If we get a harsh winter (surely not again so soon), you’ll end up with plant casualties. Leave planting these until spring and they’ll have months to establish and acclimatise to conditions in your garden before the temperatures plummet.

Plant correctly

Before planting anything, make sure you add lots of well-rotted manure or garden compost to the soil and planting hole to increase the soil’s water-holding capacity.

Always soak the plant in its pot before planting to ensure the roots are fully charged; I stand mine in a bucket of water for 15-20 minutes.

If the soil is dry at planting time, you can try puddling-in. Fill the planting hole with water, put in the soaked rootball, and then fill in with soil. Water thoroughly again.

If the sun is strong, shade new plants with shade netting or horticultural fleece to prevent them wilting. Plant in the evening to give new plants a bit of respite before the sun comes up the following morning.

And don’t forget to mulch after planting.

A 3in to 4in (7.5-10cm) deep mulch (soil covering) of bark, compost or similar materials placed on beds and borders will help maintain soil moisture levels, keep away thirsty, water-stealing weeds and insulate the roots from hot, sunny conditions. But it is important to ensure the mulch is only put down when the soil is already moist.

Gravel and stones make a long-lasting decorative mulch, which looks particularly good around drought-resisting and Mediterranean plants. If you’re on a tight budget, you can use other mulching materials, such as lawn clippings or even polythene sheeting.

Other tips include using planting membranes, which help to keep moisture in the soil too, and you can increase the amount of water your soil holds by adding water-retaining gels.

Geoff Hodge

About Geoff Hodge

Geoff Hodge is a freelance garden writer, writing for various national
gardening magazines and websites – as well as lots more besides! He answers the questions submitted by Richard Jackson's Gardening Club members. Previously, he was the Web Editor for the Royal Horticultural Society, Gardening Editor of Garden News magazine and Technical Editor of Garden Answers magazine. He has written eight gardening books and broadcasts on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and is a regular guest on Ken Crowther’s gardening programme on BBC Essex.
www.gardenforumhorticulture.co.uk
@Hodgerow
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