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Dealing with Drought

One of the most precious world resources is water. In Britain we are blessed with a generous annual rainfall. It is estimated that a HUGE 10,000 gallons of water falls on an average house roof in one year. Rainwater is much better for your plants and your garden than tap water. So it makes perfect sense to collect it and use it to water your plants. But it's not all doom and gloom. Plants actually grow better when the sun is shining. Real gardeners know howto adapt and improvise to keep their gardens blooming:

Irrigation

Collect rainwater in water butts connected to the down pipes from the roof of the house. Divert the water using dedicated water diverters. These are very easy to install and divert all the rainwater straight into your water butt ready for use on the garden.You can keep the water inside the butt clean with a special water treatment.

Prepare your plants for every eventuality. If they have been properly planted and the soil is in good heart then they will be able to quickly establish a good root system to source water.

Feed lawns with quality fertiliser in spring to encourage them to grow new deep roots while there is water available to support this growth.

Remove all weeds from the garden but especially in spring: they compete with your plants for water.  Use a glyphosate weedkiller for persistent perennial weeds, to kill weeds right down to the the roots.

Mulch to reduce water loss from the soil. It's vital you apply the mulch in the winter or early spring when the soil is saturated. A mulch will control annual weeds and reduces the need for hoeing.

Avoid cultivating the soil after early April, as this will turn wet soil to the surface and speed the evaporation of the soil moisture. Only dig where you need to and when hoeing restrict your activity to the very top centimeter or so of the soil.

Feed the soil - it needs to be healthy and rich to support your plants through difficult times. Incorporate good quality organic matter such as manure and humus rich soil conditioners to add vital bulk and water retaining properties. This will hold moisture in the soil, improve aeration and enhance drainage. It will also slowly release nutrients to the plants. A healthy soil is alive with micro-organisms and soil creatures that are essential to good plant growth.Watch your plants; the most susceptible plants will be those that are newly planted but especially trees and shrubs. If they start to wilt then water them.

Don't water in the heat of the day, wait until dusk so that the water soaks into the soil and is available to your plants throughout the night. Never water in direct sunlight because most of this water will  evaporate and never reach the roots of your plants. It is better to water really thoroughly once a week, than superficially daily.

When you've watered dig down into the soil to see how far the water has soaked in. You might be surprised how shallow the wet layer is. Continually wetting the top of the soil encourages the roots to grow at the surface and they are then much more prone to damage from scorching sun and winter frost.

When watering make sure that the water gets to the roots of the plant, a sprinkle over the foliage is practically useless. Remove the rose from your watering-can as this will give you better control, enabling you to apply the water directly to the root area.

Keep greenhouses cooler with shade netting or apply a shade wash.

Containers

As the summer starts to appear on the horizon and hot weather bakes our gardens it is time to pay attention to your garden planters. Chances are you normally have a trying time keeping them well watered all summer. Plants in containers are usually the first to dry out when the weather turns warm. Now's your chance to prepare you containers for every eventuality and with a bit of careful planning your plants will be well equipped to not only survive the coming summer but also to go on performing right through to next summer too:

If you want your planters to dry out more slowly in hot and windy weather then think big. A larger pot holds more compost and this will dry out much more slowly than a small container.

Use a quality container compost for use in hanging baskets, troughs and window boxes. The formula retains and releases nutrients and water for longer, providing your plants with all they need. After all they are totally dependent on the compost in the pot for all their growing needs.

Drainage is important, especially over the autumn and winter. Use a thick layer of crocks (broken flower pots) or gravel at the bottom of the plant to enhance the drainage. Raise the planter on pot feet so that the drainage holes can empty freely.

Add more Water Retaining Gel, especially for summer planters. This can either be mixed into the compost as you plant, or added later by inserting holes into the compost and dropping a measure of granules into the bottom of them.

Westland's specially formulated Water Retaining Gel has the capacity to hold 400 times its own weight in water. This water is absorbed and released throughout the season, as the plant needs it. After each watering the crystals re-charge absorbing water. This ability to store water reduces water stress in plants and helps retain flowers and fruit in times of hot weather and during rapid plant growth. The contents are sufficient to treat 50-litres of compost.


Drought Resistant Plants

When choosing plants to grow this season it makes sense to choose those that are better equipped to deal with hot and dry weather. But it's very important to remember that even if a plant is considered to be drought tolerant it still needs to get established to be able to find its own water and when it is in a container it will need watering from time to time.

Plants are quite amazing in that they actually give us clues to indicate whether they are well suited to hot conditions. If you can learn to recognise some of these clues, then you are well on the way to choosing the right plants for growing in hotter conditions:

Think about plants that grow in hot Mediterranean countries. Many have silver coloured leaves and often the leaves have tiny hairs on them: Lavender is a good example. The tiny leaf hairs protect the surface of the leaves and reduce evaporation.

Plants with long thin leaves such as grasses or rosemary have fewer stomata (leaf pores) and so evaporation from the leaf surface is much reduced.

Plants with small leaves, such as Thyme, or leathery leaves, such as sage, are also slower to give up precious water.Spines can act as cooling fins on a plant, so these are often seen on more drought tolerant plants.

Aromatic foliage is another indicator, as the volatile oils evaporate at the leaf surface it actually cools the leaf.

Fleshy, succulent leaves store moisture for dry spells. Sedum spectabile (ice plant) is a hardy example, or Aeonium. And of course some plants use several of these mechanisms. 

 

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