Our friend Ade Sellars is sharing his top tips for saving water this summer...
For years there have been warnings about climate change, on what we need to do to protect and sustain this precious planet. Sticking our head in the sand is no longer an option, this has consequences for everyone and everything.
For gardeners, people known for working with nature, it may feel all doom and gloom. But this can be a positive moment where we have the opportunity to re-think some of our practices, find sustainable answers and move forward as a collective, ensuring our treasured green spaces have a glorious future. So, with extreme weather patterns and soaring temperature, what can we do to ensure plants continue to thrive through the driest of summers?
I always think, you can never have too many water butts. With so much choice on the market, they can be discreet or as brash as you want, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to own one. Used containers can be bought cheaply on eBay, gardening forums or given away for free on allotments by fellow allotmenteers. Even watering cans, buckets and suspended tarpaulin can be made to collect rainfall. Sometimes, we just need to think outside the box and be a little more ‘MacGyver’ in our efforts.
With several water butts dotted around both my kitchen garden and garden, I also own a livestock cattle trough, which quickly fills up during rainfall. Once we hit a hot spell, I cover it over with tarpaulin, unless I’m watering or exposing it to rainfall, to prevent water evaporation. If you have the space, and bit of a budget, you could invest in an IBC container or an old, reclaimed steel water tank. In recent years, I’m seeing more of these on allotments, standing proud protecting their priceless cargo through all weathers.
As long as it doesn’t contain bleach or salt, reusing dishwater and bathwater is an excellent way to keep costs down and plants hydrated. More info on how to use here...
Of course, it’s just not plant life than can suffer during a heatwave, wildlife too. So, water flowering plants. If a healthy plant is producing nectar, then garden pollinators will benefit and so will both growing flowers and veggies. It keeps the garden circle strong and life within your borders happy.
If your area is hit by drought this summer and hosepipe bans come into play, you may have to prioritise plants. Recently planted crops and plants will need regular watering, so will shallow root plants, such as salads, summer bedding and seedlings. If grown in pots and seed trays, try moving them into shade until the extreme period subsides.
Keep on top of your weeding! Weeds are flowerbed vampires, feeding on precious water and nutrients that are supposed to benefit your plants. Weed beds and borders regularly, ensuring tap root weeds are removed entirely. By hoeing on a sunny day, any cut weeds left on the surface will quickly wither. Mulching beds is a great way to both supress weeds and help retain moisture. Just remember not to cover over emerging plants, as it can cause them to rot.
Give cutting the grass a miss. I know lawns rank highly for many garden lovers, but grass is one of the toughest plants growing in our gardens. It may yellow, go brown, even seem bare in places when a drought hits. But a lengthy rainfall, and it will quickly bounce back. If you are mowing, then keep blades high as longer grass traps morning dew, feeding the roots. Lawns can be mulched, by using the cut grass, thus trapping moisture.
When it comes to greenhouses, plants will need all the help they can get to keep temperatures in check. Keeping all vents, windows and doors open will maintain a regular airflow. Automatic vent openers are a great addition to a greenhouse. They will act on your behalf by opening roof windows when the greenhouse hits a certain temperature. You may need to install shading to prevent plants from becoming scorched. Finally, help prevent heat damage to your greenhouse plants by damping down floors and surfaces a couple of times a day. Not only will this improve greenhouse humidity, it can prevent the onset of red spider mite.
Drought Tolerant Plants
Gardens by now will have seen the last of spring displays. As plants retreat, gaps may appear in beds and borders, leaving you room for new plants. Keeping planting displays close together as they will cover bare soil, reduce moisture evaporation and increase humidity. This could also be the moment when you re-think how your planting scheme may look in the coming years by incorporating drought tolerant plants. For me, it was Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year 2019, the sedum ‘Atlantis’ that opened my eyes to these range of planting. But you don’t need a Chelsea winner to make your garden a showstopper. Various grasses, lavenders, conifers are a few from an extensive choice.
If you’re going to water, dry to do it either first thing in the morning, or at dusk. Temperatures will be much lower, compared to midday, so there will be less water evaporation, and plants will be able to hold onto the water longer. With a low sun at these times, there’s little change of scorching plants if water droplets fall on foliage. Aim for the base of the plant, that way roots have direct access to the water and the immediate soil is drenched. Watering overhead has the potential to scorch plants, and encourage diseases such as mildew.
Try not to frequently water the garden, instead, do it less but water for longer periods. Short bursts of watering can mean it doesn’t have the opportunity to sink into the ground, before being evaporated. A heavy douse will ensure plant roots remain moist for longer. Also, by watering less you’re encouraging plant roots to push wider and deeper for moisture. Constant watering can cause roots to become lazy and remain near the surface, making them to be susceptible to harsh sunlight. As these roots will be weakly anchored, this can cause wind rock in plants.
Pots and Containers
As we head further into summer, pots and containers will need that extra attention to keep them thriving. Deadhead regularly and when watering, soak thoroughly. Ensure pots are sat on saucers, that way, any water captured, will quickly be soaked up by the pot. Containers can retain a lot of heat, and if placed on a hot patio, plants won’t thank you for it. Try moving pots to a shady part of the garden until cooler temperatures return. Also, a regular plant feed will provide the necessary nutrients to help maintain a healthy plant. If plants are starting to look crammed, divide and pot on. Otherwise, plants will be competing for both water and nutrients. Dalefoot Wool Compost for Potting is ideal for this situation. Not only is it packed with those necessary nutrients, but it also has the ability to retain water. Ensuring healthy plant growth, larger flowers and bigger crops.
Like our homes, we’re custodians of our green spaces and it’s our responsibility to ensure future generations get to enjoy them as much as we do now. So, give your garden a sustainable future, and use water wisely.
I’m Ade Sellars the Good Life Gardener, and I’m a gardener, presenter, writer and content producer, with a passion for growing my own food in my kitchen garden. As well as running my own gardening business, I write for magazines, produce tailored video content for gardening brands, flower shows and outdoor events and I regularly deliver talks and demonstrations around the country.
I co-write the award-winning gardening and food blog, Agents of Field, with my wife Sophie; you can follow our adventures on Twitter and Instagram, or by subscribing to our blog.