The UK has fallen victim to the driest winter in more than 20 years which could have serious repercussions for your garden, your plants and our wildlife.
The South East of England alone has received only 50%-60% of the normal rainfall it would normally get this April and long-term forecasts see no significant relief in the next three months.
We anticipate rain this weekend (13th-14th May) for most of the UK but along with our experts in the horticulture and agriculture businesses we feel this could possibly be too little, too late.
So what does this mean for you?
Your garden relies heavily on the rainfall from autumn to early spring to top up the volume of soil water it loses during the summer. If your soil doesn’t get this rain your garden is already on catch-up from as early as this spring.
You need a plan
Whether you are growing flowers, vegetables or herbs – inconsistent watering will have a dramatic and detrimental effect on your plants – their colour, their performance, their fruiting potential and their long term health. If you don’t water you won’t get a good crop. Potatoes will be like bullets and your bountiful crop of fruit will be dismal and tasteless.
So we got our horticultural team together at the beginning of the week to write out a plan that we hope will be of some benefit to you between now and September.
Each of the 12 tips below highlights whether it’s a simple solution, applicable to flowers or edibles (including fruit and vegetables) plus the price range for your peace of mind.
An easy solution for £15
Until hose-pipe bans are actioned, this is one of the most efficient ways you can water any piece of land. We recommend you use soakers in the early morning or late afternoon & evening to reduce water loss through evaporation. This is the perfect way to get the soil in your garden fully wet before an official bans set in. Soil soakers direct water to where your flowers need it most – the roots. For Soft Fruit, Potatoes and Onions, the best way to water them is from underground. Watering the fruit can lead to damaged fruit. Water on the foliage of potatoes can lead to potato blight!
An easy solution for under £5
Water retaining gel is a tiny polymer ball. Mixed into compost for containers or dug into borders when the ground is watered the gel absorbs up to 400 times its own weight in water molecules. They then release the water back to your plant roots slowly ensuring your plants have a constant water supply. A fantastic watering solution over the holidays and to supplement watering with the hose and the watering can. You can also use automatic watering spikes, the water is drip fed directly at the roots so there is no evaporation. As the bubble heats up the pressure inside releases more water. Another solution is to use a Bag & Drip Irrigation Kit as this will be great at preventing plants drying out during the day, especially bad for tomatoes and potatoes where uneven watering can cause fruit to crack and split.
An easy solution for under £10
Moss is fantastic at holding water. It’s light and airy and has a structure that creates little reservoirs of water around the roots of the beautiful flowers in your hanging basket. Sphagnum moss is easy to mould around the side & top of baskets and containers and allows you to save on constant watering.
Under £10, some skill is required
Improve the root-growing abilities of your favourite garden plants like roses and rhododendrons by adding this fungi mix. In essence, the fungi increases the root zone area of your plants. The greater this area the more water these roots can access from far and wide. Sprinkle the fungi mix into the bottom of the planting hole before watering and planting up.
An easy solution from £5
By choosing pots made from plastic as opposed to terracotta you can really reduce your need to water. The vast amount of sizes, colours and styles mean that whatever your taste there is something to suit your budget. Plus if you choose a pot with a self-sufficient self-watering reservoir you can reduce your watering regime even more. For the traditionalist the faux terracotta Festanato range is a real winner.
An easy solution from £5
A simple solution which you hopefully already have the tools for. Remove the competition for water by getting rid of weeds surrounding your prized plants as well as the weeds in your lawn. We really like Kent & Stowe’s loop weeder.
An easy solution costing up to £15
Yes this seems obvious, however we think we have found the best way to use your old bath water. Flopro has a collapsible 2 in 1 plastic bucket & watering can. When we trialled it, due to its soft plastic the bucket did not scratch the bath surface, something most rigid buckets will do.
If you can reuse your cooking water (once it has cooled) it also has the benefit of having some trace minerals within the water.
Also don’t forget to wash all your fruit and veg in a bowl where you can re-use the water in your garden afterwards.
An easy solution from just £5
A compost rich in any type of organic matter, will when dug in to your vegetable plot or ornamental plant borders automatically absorb and hold onto the moisture from your watering. If you have a compost bin, now’s the time to see what you can take and start digging in.
Regardless of whether you are protecting vegetables or ornamentals we really like Gro-Sure’s vegetable growing compost. Rich in organic matter and slow release fertiliser it will benefit any plant and really holds onto moisture in the soil. You can also try using GroSure Easy Container Compost which is designed with water storage in mind.
An easy solution from £10
Once you have dug in as much organic matter as possible, cover the bare soil with bark or ground cover. It not only suppresses weeds it also helps reduce moisture loss. Which means that you should reduce your need to water. We like Gro-Sure Smart Ground Cover which is new on the market this year. Made from wood fibres that naturally lock together we found that when watering the bark had less chance of being moved apart.
Protecting your lawn
Easy to quite complicated task starting from £10
It’s important to know that it takes a severe drought to actually kill off the lawn. That said you will have to accept that you are going to end up with a brown lawn during a summer drought and ornamental lawns using fine seed grass will suffer more than a general lawn seed or turf.
Allow your lawn to stay as tall as possible, so raise the height of your mowers cutting blades. Also allow the clippings to fall back into the grass but ensure you have small / fine clippings, large clumps will smother your grass. Try not to mow in full sun.
Providing there is not a hosepipe ban in place. You should water grass only when the soil becomes dry but before the grass changes colour.
Please make sure you have aerated the soil with a garden fork before you start watering. Always water the lawn in the early morning, late evening or even during the night. Water only once every 7 to 10 days and do not apply too much water. Excessive watering makes your lawn less drought tolerant and stops the grass from forcing its roots deeper into the soil.
We prefer a sprinkler system rather than a hose as they are more consistent in their watering. In June and July one square metre of lawn should need approx. 20 to 25 litres of water every 7 – 10 days.
As a rule of thumb a hose fed sprinkler will deliver 20–25 litres of water to a square meter of lawn every 12 to 15 minutes. One of our colleagues spreads jam jars around the area being watered and stops watering the area when they have around 2.5cm (one inch) of water in them.
We like Flopro’s elite sprinkler system which fits all watering brand hoses. You can also create a modular system of sprinklers across a lawn. Plus being metal you should have no problem driving the spike into hard ground. Something that’s not so easy with cheaper plastic sprinklers.
Nourishing the lawn prior to a drought can be a big benefit. Westland’s new organic safe lawn suppresses weeds, prevents moss, feeds the grass roots and also adds small amounts of grass seed to your lawn.
It’s important that you do not use lawn weedkiller when the lawn is stressed from a lack of watering. If you are happy with a non-organic soution for clearing weeds from your lawn, we’d recommend Westland’s Resolva Lawn Weedkiller. We recommend spring and early summer applications rather than autumn and winter applications. Never apply in the autumn if your lawn has had insufficient rains during the summer months.
An easy solution from £10
You need to be looking for the following key words, Mediterranean, low maintenance and also drought tolerant. These type of plants can survive on a lot less water when faced with dry conditions.
Scan our websites for bay trees, olive trees, lavenders, citrus trees and basil which are all naturally built to cope with periods of drought and thrive in full sun, putting on lots of flower colour even if you have the shallowest or driest of soil. Also don’t forget that almost all wildflowers are drought tolerant too.
An easy solution
Planting flowers close together gives multiple benefits. Better colour concentration, plus flowers in close proximity to one another provide more humidity around the leaves which gives a source of moisture to your flowers 24-7. Also denser leaves, means less sun on your soil which means less water evaporation. Try growing bedding plants as close together as 4in (10cm) apart in all directions for impact and water-saving.