UK drought: How to look after your garden despite hosepipe bans


It’s out with the hosepipe and in with the watering can (Picture: Shutterstock)

The rain may finally have arrived, but after months without so much as a drop it will take more than a couple of thunderstorms to replenish the country’s supplies – which means if your area is currently under a hosepipe ban, it won’t end any time soon.

And with two heatwaves in quick succession giving our gardens a real roasting, we need to think of ways to protect our beloved outdoor spaces in the future.

‘The climate crisis is giving increasing challenges to gardeners as we can no longer expect that next year will be “normal,”’ says Rob Crowle, chief plant adviser at Duchy of Cornwall Nursery.

‘We are going to have to adapt the way we garden and the plants we select will be key to this. But right now, how do we cope during the current heatwave – and protect our gardens from the ensuing drought and hosepipe bans?’

Here, Rob shares his drought survival tips and how to future-proof our outdoor spaces…

Restore lawn and order

A closely cropped lawn will quickly show the effects of drought, while taller grass will shade the roots, which won’t dry out as quickly.

So cut less frequently, or raise the blade on the mower to keep grass longer as dew in the late summer nights will benefit from a taller sward.

Patches of dying grass will recover quickly once the rain returns (Picture: Alamy)

But don’t panic if your unwatered lawn has turned yellow/brown – the next good drop of rain will quickly green it up again and the transformation will be fast.

Watering

In the throes of drought, the focus must be on watering. The aim is to get plants through with minimal damage.

Evening watering means the plant has the whole night to plump up before it starts to lose more water through transpiration in the sun. But damp soil overnight is more likely to draw out slugs and snails.

Rob Crowle is chief plant adviser at Duchy of Cornwall Nursery (Picture: John Portlock)

So water in the early morning, with a watering can, before the main heat of the day. Scorching of the foliage of certain plants can occur, so avoid wetting the leaves and direct water to the base of the plant rather than overhead.

This is especially important for large-leaved plants, where the foliage acts as an umbrella diverting water away from the root zone. Water slowly to make sure it is soaking in and not running off.

Soil matters

Help your soil out by digging in some well-rotted compost (Picture: Alamy)

Improve the water-holding capacity of your soil by adding organic matter. This is not an instant solution but forking in well-rotted compost will help conserve moisture and feed your soil.

Mulch or top dress your beds with a generous (5cm) layer of organic matter – but only when the soil is already thoroughly wet, as you want to trap the water in.

Look after new plants

Prioritise plants which have been recently planted and do not yet have established root systems. This will include newly planted trees and shrubs which will fail without adequate water in their first year.

Similarly, tiny seedlings and bedding plants will die quickly without water. Plants need water at their roots and a thorough soaking will encourage roots to stay deep in search of water.

Give your plants time to recover before pronouncing them dead prematurely (Picture: Shutterstock)

Have faith

Established plantings should be able to cope without water for several weeks. They may appear to wilt during the day but perk up overnight, and plants watered daily will develop no tolerance to going without water and end up being more vulnerable to drought.

Some plants will show scorching, or crispy leaves. Leave them on for the time being, they provide a degree of shade for leaves beneath, and many trees will shed leaves, this is a normal response.

Once the drought is over and rain falls, often in torrents, plants will start to recover. Some will not but give them all time before pronouncing them dead prematurely.

Stop feeding

Don’t feed plants during a drought as they will be under stress and will not benefit. The uptake of any feed given will be negligible but can resume in spring at the start of regrowth.

Try to group pots together to block out sunshine on the sides (Picture: Alamy)

Containers

Plants held captive in pots are especially vulnerable. Once compost in a pot has dried out, it can become difficult to re-wet, and may shrink from the sides so water runs straight out leaving the root-ball dry.

Using saucers underneath the thirstiest pots will help. Or fill a large bucket or wheelbarrow with water and soak the whole pot for half an hour.

Group pots together so there is less sun on the sides of the pot or if possible, move pots out of full sun for the time being.



Future proofing your garden

Store water

Just think of the gallons of rainwater that have disappeared down your gutters before we hit this heatwave.

Do what you can to save as much as you can in water butts, barrels, dustbins, or other vessels to use later in the year.

Collect water at other times of the year so you can use it when the heat is on (Picture: Alamy)

Be mindful of safety – a simple lid or mesh over the top will stop small creatures or children falling in and drowning.

Drought resistant plants

Plants that need little or no watering work well if you have a well-drained garden where the soil is poor and stony.

It is unlikely however that plants adapted to such extreme conditions would like a wet Cornish winter in ordinary soil, so exercise caution and do not rely simply on a label that says, ‘drought tolerant’.

Lavender doesn’t need much water (Pictures: Alamy)

Small plants will establish more easily than larger ones. If planting trees this autumn, get them in before Christmas, and think about a watering pouch around the tree trunk.

Establishment is key for all plants to tolerate drought, so plant in the autumn to give maximum time to develop a good root system.

Drought resistant plants for poor soil: Lavender and Cytisus (Broom)

Drought resistant plants for normal soil: Leaved hebes, Corokia and Convulvulus Cneorum.

Throw some shade

Create pockets of shade with a trellis and a fast-growing climber like Jasmine Officinale, which also produces the most wonderful scent. Other fast growers are passion flowers or an evergreen honeysuckle like Copper Beauty.

Create areas of shade using fast-growing climbing plants (Picture: Getty)

Bamboo screening is another great option. Fargesia, a modestly sized, 3-4metre bamboo that is clump-forming, is an effective way of creating an instant cool corner.

Grape vines, kiwis, and wisteria are fast growers, too, and look amazing grown up a pergola.

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