As predictions of ‘a worse drought than 1976’ hit the headlines, here are some water saving tips for your garden. Seven water companies in southern and eastern England – Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Anglia Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia South East – will soon be starting hosepipe bans; most of them from 5 April. (This is a picture taken in my garden – not something you’d expect to see on 31st March!)
Many gardeners, who are acutely aware of the value of water and use it carefully, feel unfairly targeted. Using water butts, or recycled food or drink drums attached to the house, shed, garage and greenhouse, many are saving water already.
• Install seep hose or micro irrigation wherever possible, it is the most efficient way of watering. Water drips slowly from them, gradually saturating the soil. Mulch over the seephose or bury it near the roots to reduce evaporation. Remember: It works well in the vegetable garden, too.
• Apply a thick layer of mulch, up to 3” deep, while the soil is still damp, to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Don’t forget to mulch between crops on vegetable beds.
• Think ahead and improve the water holding capacity of the soil, incorporating well rotted organic matter, like home made compost, before planting from autumn to spring.
• Use drought tolerant plants – usually those with waxy, succulent, silver or grey leaves, plants from Mediterranean climates and herbs, like lavender, rosemary and thyme.
• Use a watering can; you are much more aware of the volume of water being used and where it is being applied. Carry two cans at a time, if possible, it is easier to carry a balanced load.
• Apply water around the base of the plant, where it is needed, don’t waste it on the leaves, stems – or nearby path!
• Water thoroughly, soaking the soil, to encourage roots deep into the soil were they are less affected by drought.
• Create a circular ‘wall’ of soil around the base of trees and shrubs, to form a pool, water then soaks down into the ground and there is no ‘run off’. A shallow ‘saucer’ has a similar effect, too.
• Concentrate watering on newly planted trees and shrubs and those showing signs of drought stress.
• When planting, insert a piece of pipe into the ground so water is applied to the rooting zone; use upturned flower pots or cut the base from plastic drinks bottles, invert them and bury the end in the soil.
• Water in the evening, so less is lost through evaporation and it has time to soak into the ground; watering early morning is a good alternative.
• Reduce the amount of detergent you use in the bath and use the ‘grey water’ for ornamental plants. Don’t use grey water or water that has been used for washing meat in your vegetable garden.
• Don’t worry about the lawn. Grass is incredibly resilient; most of the world’s grasslands die back during the dry season and recover remarkably at the first sign of rain.
• Raise the height of cut to three centimetres to reduce the effect of drought so the grass stays greener, for longer.