Watering your garden during a prolonged dry spell

Top tips from garden designer Debby Lockey

Appreciating the value of our precious water is something we can probably all do more of, more of the time - even when the weather is more "normal"!

And, these top tips from Debby are also fantastically in line with the evolving realisation of many of us, of the many small things we can do which will help us to debby lockey garden design logobe more generally environmentally friendly.  It may not be practical for all of us to carry buckets of grey water down from our bathrooms...but there will probably be something for everybody contained within these wise words.

"Apparently the last rain we had was at the end of May, and can’t we tell! The garden is suffering. All 5 of my water butts are now empty, so I am having to rely on grey water from baths and showers. This is not too much of a problem. With all the chandlery shops in Lymington it was easy to buy a plastic, flat bottomed bailer which gets most of the water into a bucket quickly and efficiently without scratching the bath.

Water butts are empty so imaginative watering methods requiredMore water, less frequently

I am deliberately using a bucket as I want to get lots of water into my pots. It is better to give the soil a good, slow soaking just a few times a week, so all the soil is wetted, rather than dribbling a little water on the top of the soil every day.

By giving the pots a good watering the water will get down to the roots of the plants where it is needed. This will enable the root system of the plant to expand and take full advantage of any water present in the soil. A sprinkling of water on the top of the pots will evaporate very quickly and therefore won’t be any benefit to the plant.

Should your pots begin to smell because you are using grey water, just sprinkle some more soil over the top and this should deal with the problem.

Water early in the morning or late in the evening

I make sure I do the watering early in the morning or late in the evening. This not only helps to reduce the amount of evaporation, but also ensures that the leaves don’t get scorched should any water splash onto them. In full sun the water droplets act like a magnifying glass which concentrates the sunlight. Hence the scorching.

Some other tricks I use to try and reduce water loss from pots are to:

• Put saucers under the pots to catch any water that trickles through so it is not lost into the ground.
• Mulch the top of the pots to reduce the amount of evaporation from the soil surface. I use white stones as I like the look, but you could use gravel, shells or whatever you like.
• Group the pots together to create a more humid atmosphere around the plants. This will reduce water loss from the actual plants through transpiration.
• Where possible I put the pots in the shade.
• If you have hanging baskets, put pots underneath to catch any runoff
• Try to choose plants that don’t need a lot of watering. I have chosen pelargoniums for my floral pot displays as they can survive on very little water.

Prioritising which plants to water in a dry spellPrioritising which plants to water in a dry spell

When it comes to watering the garden I am prioritising which plants I water first.

• Firstly I water my sweet peas otherwise they will suffer from bud drop and so won't flower.
• After that I water the camellias as they are setting their flowers at the moment.
• Then any new plants that have just been put in the garden because as yet these plants haven’t developed an extensive root system which would allow them to find water deeper in the soil. It is for this reason that I am holding off planting up clients’ gardens, as I am concerned the plants will just die in this heat and dry soil.
• The rest of the garden has to really fend for itself, although I did give the soil a helping hand in spring when I mulched with manure and compost as this helps to hold the water in the soil.

Allotment management: wells and butts run dry and no running water 

On the allotment the problem is more severe as the only source of water is from wells or water butts, which again have dried up. I don’t drive to the allotment so any water I take across is limited to the amount I can carry. So again I have to prioritise which plants come first. Here is a list of which plants I target first.

1. Any young seedlings come first because of their shallow root system.
2. Any fruiting vegetables or fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes or cucumbers, to ensure you get healthy sweet fruit.
3. Any beans or peas that are flowering as the water ensures the pods set and swell.
4. Leafy plants such as spinach or lettuce otherwise they will think they are about to die. This causes them to bolt and taste bitter.
5. Potatoes, especially when they are in flower. I planted second early potatoes so I am just digging mine up as I don’t have enough water for them. I am only getting a small crop of small potatoes, but they are delicious.
6. Any plants grown in pots, for example strawberries, herbs, blueberries. There are often good reasons for having pots on the allotment. Blueberries require a more acidic soil than the soil on site, whereas strawberries and herbs don’t get attacked as much by slugs if they are grown in pots, plus it keeps the fruit clean if they are up off the soil. But as we know this does mean the pots have to be watered. I would suggest replacing the pots with raised beds for these plants as it is an easier and more effective way of growing vegetables in the allotment.
7. Any new trees that have been planted in the last year or two because again their root system is poorly established.

Hopefully these tips will help you water your garden quickly and efficiently so you will still have time to enjoy this wonderful weather relaxing in your garden.

For advice or a consultation about your garden you can contact Debby via Lymington.com.