August 01 2022

Head Gardeners’ tips
August 2022

Sallie Sillars - Head Gardener, Scotland

With little rain in sight, Head Gardener Sallie has some timely top tips for you when it comes to conserving water.

Whilst everyone enjoys the balmy evenings a long hot summer brings, it can be quite a challenge for gardeners trying to keep all things bright and beautiful...

Conserving water and wise watering is almost as hot a topic as our weather this summer. If you are a passionate gardener, you will have probably been reading up on drought tolerant planting schemes and Mediterranean habitats with a view to adapting your current garden to survive weather extremes. But that is not a fix we can all, or perhaps want, to implement, so what can we do now to protect our gardens experiencing periods of drought? 

Firstly, start with your soil. Ask yourself how water retentive is it? Soak a patch and squeeze the soil between your hands; does water run free, or not at all? Sandy soil will probably have drained all the water from it pre-squeeze. Clay soil, if soaked for long enough, will retain water and once squeezed releases it. The problem with very dry clay soil is waiting for it to soak up water. Once it’s become bone dry, water runs straight off the top it and it takes time to soak up any water at all once this has happened.  

Secondly, act on your findings. Improving your soil’s texture with composted bark mulch will help its ability to retain that much needed water, so autumn and late spring mulching is a great idea. Keeping some back to use throughout the year is great too. A layer spread across the garden can help retain moisture across the garden, or in pots, and act as a barrier to the scorching sunshine.   

Then look at how we can water wisely. A fine hose watering will evaporate quickly. A slow trickle left for longer has a greater impact. Watering in one spot, such as into an upturned pot sunk into the ground or a piece of drainpipe directed towards a plants root system is ideal. Watering first and last thing in the day is preferable too when the sun is low in the sky.

Watering well and for a longer period is better that watering every day. Plants can tolerate dry spells. Most house plants thrive if watered well every three weeks under normal conditions rather than every week. Garden plants every 10 days is a good guide. Subtle changes to your watering habits can help a plant to adapt and go without water for longer. 

So, when that hose pipe ban comes into force, what then?! If you do not have means to redirect your domestic used water, (buckets of soapy dish water do no harm) it can be a matter of waiting to see what survives. As an extreme measure I would collapse herbaceous plants down in on themselves to form a protective barrier of leaves over the centre or crown. The hope would be that regrowth will occur before the season is over, a bit like chopping back plants to encourage a longer growing season.  

Finally, after all these things have been tried and rain is still off the menu, then looking at a revised planting plan may be for the best, but one thing is for sure, it’s amazing how some things bounce back, and you may find that certain plants and certain areas fair better than others. There is a lot of research going on to discover just that and I am sure expert recommendations will be forthcoming in time.   

Here in Scotland, we have been very lucky, but have not escaped the long dry spells of weather. Like many places it has resulted in an early change in the garden. Seed collecting has begun across the Astrantias, Verbena, Valerian and Nicotianas to name a few. Saving seed is always the best way to sustain the garden for another year, with naturalised seedlings sown as an insurance policy for next year. Who knows what that will bring, but as gardeners, adaption and flexibility is something I think we have a responsibility to get used to. Where would we be without them?

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves!

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