Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Watering your Garden in a Drought

As you can see from the picture, with the ongoing dry weather, my lawn is parched and patchy, yet there’s no doubt that grass has a phenomenal will to live! Around the world from the Steppes to Africa, parched grasslands transform themselves miraculously, as soon as the rain appears. So don’t bother to water your lawn, unless you can’t bear to look at anything, other than a bright green swathe. It is better saved for newly planted trees and shrubs that are more susceptible to drought. If you must water your lawn, give it a thorough soaking, once a week in the early morning or evening; a little water encourages roots to the surface, making it more vulnerable to drought. Position sprinklers carefully so water is not wasted on walls, fences or paths and if the lawn starts to flood, stop the sprinkler, allow the water to soak in, then lightly spike the surface. Coarse grasses like rye grass and fescues, are less susceptible to drought, so most general purpose lawns should survive; I’d rather you were ‘water wise’ and forget about watering the lawn. The usual ‘drought’ reaction is to cut your grass too short; raise the cutting height to 4cm and mow at least once a week, instead. Cut too low and moss and weeds take over, the lawn is ‘scalped’ where the blades scrape the surface and it really begins to suffer. Weeds infesting the weakened turf can be controlled by ‘spot weeding’ using herbicide when the rain finally comes or even better, pulled out by hand before they establish. Scarify, hollow tine, weed-kill and feed with autumn fertiliser as part of your lawn maintenance programme and you’ll be surprised how rapidly it recovers.

Another way to save water is by ‘tactical watering’ in the vegetable garden. Water thoroughly when plants need it most and you’ll still get fantastic crops. Vegetables with edible seeds and fruits like peas, beans and marrows should not need watering until the flowers and pods are forming, when they’ll need about 22 litres/sq m per week; leafy crops like lettuce and spinach need 11-16 litres/sq m per week, depending on your soil type. Over-watering makes tomatoes tasteless and carrots bland, so stop watering for a couple of days before harvesting to concentrate the taste. Root crops need regular watering to stop them from splitting but don’t overdo it or they produce leaves instead of root – about 22 litres/sq m a week should be fine.

You’ll need to water your hanging baskets and containers at least twice a day; early in the morning, evening; check them at lunch time too. Plants like petunias and pelargoniums are drought resistant, but under watered fuchsias and lobelia take weeks to recover. Feed your flowers weekly with tomato fertiliser and dead heading daily for a dazzling display. Don’t forget to check other permanent container plants daily too, regular feeding and careful watering will ensure that your plants remain in tip-top condition right through the summer! If you are using recycled water from your bath and washing machine on ornamentals, don’t forget to cut down on the soap! Happy gardening!