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Dealing With Drought in the Garden

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 17 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Drought Garden Landscape Landscape

According to the predictions, climate change means that Britain is due to see some serious changes in rainfall patterns over the coming years, which means we’re all going to have to get used to the two opposite extremes of flooding and drought happening a lot more often.

Despite all the familiar jokes about hosepipe bans, when it comes to looking after our garden in a drought, most of us go about it entirely the wrong way – and our blitz watering approach having once let things go too far probably does more harm than good. If droughts are about to become more frequent, then we’d all better learn how best to deal with them.

Landscape Design

One of the most obvious ways to deal with the ravages of drought is to avoid the problem altogether and choose drought resistant plants for your garden. Planting a Mediterranean style garden tastefully incorporated into the rest of the landscape can provide a relatively low-maintenance area that will remain decorative in the hottest and driest of spells – although it won’t survive without a little attention from a watering can.

Exotic looking architectural specimens such as Cordyline, Yucca and Phormium are great for providing the structure in the dry landscape garden, with drought-tolerant plants such as Verbascum or Nerine ideal for adding colour. This type of gardening is becoming increasingly popular, so most garden centres stock a very good range of suitable plants.

Watering In A Drought

However, not everyone wants the sort of landscape garden that wouldn’t look out of place in the South of France – and it certainly isn’t automatically a suitable or complementary look for every UK home. If you don’t want to start pulling your whole landscape design to bits, the key to dealing with drought could well lie in the way you go about doing your watering.

The main thing is not to wait until your plants are actually wilting; in a serious dry spell, if they’ve gone this far, you really have left it too late, because it means that the top 4-6in (10-15cm) of soil has probably already dried out. Water as soon as you notice the foliage starting to look a bit dull, or the soil around the roots is getting too dry.

Then, when you do water, don’t play at it! Give the ground a good soaking, or else all you’ll achieve is to waste water as it evaporates off the surface very quickly and let the lower levels around the roots stay dry.

It’s worth remembering before the rains fail that a good layer of mulch is a great help in keeping water in the soil – especially around the likes of bedding plants which are prone to drying out rapidly. There are lots of materials on offer, such as forest bark, wood chippings and coco shells. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose – picking for purely aesthetic reasons is fine – the important thing is to slow down evaporation.

Hosepipe Bans

Watering during a hosepipe ban obviously causes problems – if only because it condemns the gardener to long, laborious trips with a watering can. However, the typical approach of drizzling a pint or two per square yard (1 litre/square metre) each evening makes the job far more protracted and tedious than it needs to be – and it’s often ineffective anyway. In a prolonged spell of drought, a thorough and careful watering once a week is likely to be more useful, and although it will take some time to do, in the long run it’s likely to take up far less of your life. More to the point, it’s likely to be much better for your plants.

For the general garden, take the rose off the watering can and gently pour a good 10 to 20 pints (6 to12 litres) around the base of each plant depending on its size – holding the spout close to the soil and taking care not to disturb the soil around the roots.

Bedding plants, seedlings and the lawn area are best watered with the rose in place – and aim to give your grass around 35 pints of water per square yard (25 litres/square metre) every 5-7 days to keep it in good condition.

Crisp, brown lawns, wilted foliage and drooping flowers are never an attractive sight and although we can often feel more than a little powerless in the grip of a prolonged dry spell, there are things which we can do to help our precious gardens survive. One thing’s for sure, if the climate change forecasts are correct, we’re all going to get a lot more practice in dealing with droughts.

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