MANY gardeners may be looking outside at the pouring rain, thinking ‘Drought? What drought?’
Saving water is something we all need to think about because summer will be upon us before we know it.
We use 145 litres of water a day, yet we could harvest thousands of litres of rainwater from our household roof if we just took a little time to invest in a decent water butt and diverter or other container.
Guy Barter, RHS chief horticultural adviser, says: “There is a lot gardeners can do that does not involve extra watering.
“For example, spiking and feeding a lawn in spring will help it hold up in dry weather – then if it goes brown, it will recover even faster when rain returns.
“It’s also a good idea to plant hardy plants early to avoid the hot weather and let them get their roots into the surrounding soil to search out moisture.
“When the warm weather arrives, keep any newly-purchased plants in pots under light shade until the weather turns cooler.”
“Of course, gardeners in north England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at the moment don’t normally suffer from bad droughts,” he continues. “But by following our suggestions, they will not only be following good gardening practice but also will be preparing for the occasional very dry summers.”
Soil cultivation is of key importance when protecting plants in drought conditions. If we dig in large amounts of compost, well-rotted manure or other organic matter now, it will not only improve the soil structure but will also aid water retention.
The charity advises gardeners to plant plants when they are still small, so they can develop much greater resilience by adapting to their conditions from a young age.
Planting as early as possible in spring could also be beneficial because the sooner roots can start exploring the soil for water before dry weather arrives, the better. Mulching after planting can help limit water loss from soil and promote a good root environment, which will help the retention of moisture while plants establish.
All new plants should be thoroughly watered and kept watered in the first season in dry periods, to ensure they establish well. Once established, they will become more drought tolerant.
In the last decade, more products which help retain water have become available, such as new and improved water butts (check out decorative water butts at www.rsankey.co.uk), drip feeders and automatic irrigation kits, along with water-retaining gels and drought-busting biochar composts (www.carbongold.com).
Companies associated with substantial water use in the garden are recognising the need to save water. Hozelock, for instance, is working closely with Waterwise, an independent organisation focused on reducing water consumption in the UK, to develop gardening products that will help gardeners reduce the amount of water they use.
Of course, it’s also worth remembering that roof water is chemical-free and soft, containing less mineral salts and deposits than tap water, and so is ideal for crops and garden plants. Planting drought-tolerant plants, reducing our lawn size (as the lawn can use an awful lot of water to keep it looking good in summer) using peat-free compost and planting container plants in large pots (the more compost used, the longer it takes to dry out), will all help.
The RHS also stresses the importance of choosing the right plant for a particular garden soil. If a plant is growing in the soil most suited to its needs, it will be more tolerant of varying climatic conditions.
Take all these precautions now and when hosepipe bans hit, you’ll still be able to enjoy the sunshine.