It’s been a scorcher of a week, and the heatwave’s set to continue. We all know we should be careful with water so it’s worth making sure the water you use in your garden goes where it’s needed.
Less is more…
Give your plants a good soak less often, rather than a sprinkle of water every day. The water should soak into the soil to where it’s needed – the roots. Imagine you’re filling a bucket under the plant and think how long it would take you. I like to leave the hose running gently while I do other things in the garden, moving it once each plant is thoroughly watered. Alternatively, use a watering can without the rose. Remember, you don’t need to do this every day – once or twice a week is fine, and not all your plants will need watering – it depends on the weather and the sort of plants you’ve got.
Gently does it…
One of my pet hates are the standard spray nozzles that come with many hoses. Take it off and throw it away! You need a gentle flow of water that will soak into the ground – not a jet of water that blasts the soil away from the base of the plant. The pressure from a spray nozzles is just too high to water effectively. They’re great for squirting kids but not for watering the garden! The ‘gun’-type nozzles are better – there’s usually a soaker option that works well – or just use a plain hose or a watering can without a rose. If the soil is very dry, wet the surface, let the water soak in, then repeat – otherwise the water might just run off the top, particularly if you’ve got clay soil.
Water roots not leaves
The most efficient way of watering is to soak the roots of your plants. Your hose or watering can needs to be directed to the base of the plant. If you spray the leaves, less of the water is going where it’s needed. The plant will be wet, and you might think it’s been watered, but the soil (and the roots) will still be dry. However, it’s not true that watering the leaves will scorch them. There’s a long held belief that the droplets of water act like magnifiers, and scorch the leaves but several scientific studies have found no evidence for this.
When to water
The best time to water plants is in the evening or the early morning – it’s cooler, so more of the water will soak into the ground rather than evaporating. If you’ve got a problem with slugs or snails, water in the morning if you can: they love damp conditions overnight! If you can’t water your garden in the morning or evening, it’s absolutely fine to water at another time of the day – it won’t hurt your plants but it is less efficient.
Help! My plant’s wilted!
Don’t panic! A little bit of wilting is fine – it’s the plants’ natural defence, and helps them to reduce the amount of water they lose naturally as they ‘breathe’. Drastic wilting is more serious. Give your plant a really good soak and leave overnight. The next day, remove any leaves or stems that haven’t recovered, and keep it well watered – the chances are it’ll survive. If it looks totally dead the next day, it might be a lost cause, although a perennial (one that comes back year after year) might regrow from its roots or a shrub might well reshoot from its stems.
What needs watering?
Some plants need more than others, so focus your watering on the more vulnerable ones: this include anything that’s been planted this or last year. Established shrubs can usually manage without much water, and some plants (often those with furry leaves, or narrow leaves) are adapted to low water levels. Plants in the shadier parts of your garden are less likely to dry out.
Plants in containers are the most vulnerable to drought, so keep a special eye on them, especially those in unglazed ceramic as these dry out more quickly. If you’re using pots in your garden, get the biggest ones you can afford as these will retain water most effectively. But don’t kill your plants with kindness! It’s possible to overwater container plants – the soil should be damp but not sopping wet.
With water becoming ever more precious, and the climate hotting up, we’re going to have to make changes to the amount of water we use in our gardens. We might need to think more about the sort of plants we grow – choosing meditteranean-type plants which need less water, or plants adapted to hotter, drier climates. If you can, do new planting in the autumn – especially shrubs or trees. They’ll be better established and need less watering by the time the weather warms up the following spring. Soil with plenty of organic matter will hold water better – so mulching regularly with compost or manure will not only reduce surface evaporation, but longer term reduce the amount of watering you need to do.
But in the meantime, if it’s too hot for gardening, it’s time to head for that shady corner with a cool drink and a good book….