Be Waterwise

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July has certainly been exceptionally hot and dry across most of the UK, and although the end of the month brought some very welcome rain, more hot weather is set to return. So just how much should you be watering your garden?
I’m posing the question not from the perspective of conserving water, although that is certainly important and as such is covered widely elsewhere including the media. I’m thinking more about what’s actually best or necessary for the plants.

Many people who complain of how desperate their gardens are for water will water by sprinkling the plants with a spray on a hose, diligently going out every day. But often they are doing little good and could even be doing harm. A “little and often” approach to watering encourages plants to produce fine roots near the surface of the soil. When the water dries up from the soil surface, as it will do very quickly in hot or windy weather, the roots can also dry up and get scorched in the heat, becoming unable to take in water. A less frequent soaking, so the water penetrates further down into the soil, benefits roots deeper down and so discourages the surface roots that can be so easily damaged. No water at all beyond what falls from the sky – a real “treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen” approach, can be even more beneficial in helping plants to be self sufficient and send roots deep in search of reliably moist soil.

Of course it all hinges on “right plant, right place”. If you plant a moisture loving Hydrangea on an exposed south facing sandy soil, it’s never going to cope on its own. But if you have a patch of sun baked ground and you create a gravel garden with Mediterranean and other sun loving plants, they will thrive with little attention from you.

One word of caution though, no matter how well suited the plant to the conditions, every plant needs time to get established. So any newly planted will need watering in such dry weather until they’ve got their roots well beyond the initial root ball (the lesson here is avoid planting if you know we are entering a hot dry spell). Herbaceous plants tend to establish very quickly, whilst shrubs will take longer and trees may need care in such dry weather for around 3 years. Some trees and shrubs are quite good at telling us they need a helping hand – Hydrangeas will wilt quite readily but perk up as soon as they receive water; others though don’t give away any clues until it’s too late. So don’t take chances particularly with relatively newly planted specimen shrubs or trees – give a good soaking to the base of the plant once a week or so depending on the weather.

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This post was written by Christine Whatley on July 31, 2018 2:50 pm

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