Gardening Tips > June > Coping with a dry garden

Coping with a dry garden

As more weeks pass without significant rain fall many gardeners are turning their attention to their dry gardens and lawns and wondering how to keep everything watered and looking good.

You should first be turning your attention to what you can do to retain and recycle as much water as possible so that when it does eventually rain your garden can benefit more than once.

  • Install water butts underneath drainpipes which collect from your house, shed and greenhouse
  • Use mulch such as grass clippings and bark around trees and shrubs to prevent water evaporation and run-off
  • You can buy water retention products like Swell Gel and composts containing water retention additives, which are great for minimising watering of containers and hanging baskets
  • Cover new flower or vegetable beds with plastic sheeting or Mypex, which is a great water retainer and weed suppressant.
  • Water your containers and plants in the early morning or late evening. If you water when the sun is high in the sky you will lose water into the atmosphere and may also risk scorching your plants
  • Using the right equipment can also save water. Leaky hose connectors and ill-fitting watering can roses take minutes to replace but this simple measure could save you litres of water each month.

For areas where you do not want to be constantly watering you can choose plants which are naturally adapted to coping with long spells of drought, like those with fleshy or waxy leaves and grasses. Think about the species which you see flourishing in dry Mediterranean climates. Improving the soil in your garden can also minimise the need for regular watering. This is because in a soil which is well-structured there will be a network of pores which water can circulate in. A poorly structured soil can become waterlogged or to freely drained.  Weeding regularly will ensure that all water supplies go to your plants instead.

In times of severe drought, or as a general measure to reduce your water use in the garden, you may want to think about using your ‘grey water’, which refers to domestic waste water. It is fine to use as long as it doesn’t contain too much soap, detergent or grease. Some types of water are better than others and they can be ranked in order of preference as follows; shower, bath, bathroom sink, utility sink (as long as you have not been using strong detergents or bleaches). The water from dishwashers and washing machines usually has too much detergent in it, so is not really suitable.

If you’d like to use your grey water you can take it to the garden in buckets from a bath or sink, or it may be easier to siphon it via garden hose. For a more permanent solution you could invest in a pipe diverter which feeds water from a waste water drain pipe into a water butt.  Grey water should be used immediately and never stored for too long as in the summer it can smell very bad and breed disease pathogens. Never water directly on foliage, on newly propagated or plants in containers or on those grown under glass. It should also never be used on fruit, vegetables, herbs or acid-loving plants. Grey water is best used occasionally, and never in the same part of the garden too frequently.

You can also buy automated watering systems which use sprinklers, seep hoses or drip feeders to make it much easier to regularly water your garden. For example, this can be useful when establishing an area of newly planted trees and shrubs, for large areas with tubs and containers and for your vegetable patch as many vegetable plants need regular watering to prevent pests and diseases and to produce their delicious fayre.

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