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How to cope in this hot, hot weather

“Phew, what a scorcher!”

Remember the summer of 76? It didn't rain between March and September, there were hosepipe bans, and water had to be collected from stand pipes in the streets.

This year is not quite that bad - luckily for us, we had rain, rain, and more rain earlier in the year, which has left the soil in comparatively good condition: it may be like dust on top, but generally, when we water our plants, the water goes where it's needed, rather than disappearing down those enormous cracks that we all hate so much.

However, we've had sun and heat for well over three weeks now, and no sign of it breaking for at least another ten days.

So what can we do to help our parched gardens?

First and obviously, watering: there's been no sign of a hosepipe ban so far, so make the most of it: but don't get the sprinkler out. Sprinklers are incredibly wasteful of water: they send a gentle curtain of it all over the place, whether it's needed or not, they soak the foliage long before they soak the soil - and people tend to turn them on and then go away, so they could easily be running for an hour or more, which is far more than they are needed.

Instead, use your hose with a hand-held nozzle, and don't turn the water on full: most houses have high mains pressure, so work out how little you need to turn the tap in order to get adequate water. You don't need to sand-blast the plants - in fact, the slower the water arrives, the better for them. Also, most taps will dribble and waste water if you turn them up too high, so experiment in using “just enough”. My own tap at home only needs to go one quarter turn, to give me a perfectly adequate flow.

Don't spray randomly over the top: aim the water at the base of each plant, you don't need to waste time soaking the foliage - the water needs to get down to the roots of the plants. And don't waste water on plants which don't need it: all that lavender, all those herbs, all the Mediterranean silver-leaved plants, they don't need watering every day as they are, by nature, drought-tolerant - so once a week is plenty for them.

Likewise, plants with fleshy leaves - Sedum, Bergenia, for example - are able to go without watering for long periods, so you don't need to water them every day.

Instead, focus on the water-sensitive plants which tend to wilt early - Rudbeckia are particularly water-sensitive, as are Hydrangeas, Campanula, and Astrantia.

Summer bedding plants tend to be really water-sensitive, unfortunately: they have shallow, thin roots which aren't designed for long-term water sourcing, so they will need special attention.

Shrubs and trees have good deep roots, so they won't need any special watering, but fruit and veg will need a daily soaking, especially in raised beds.

Forget the lawn: grass is an amazingly resilient plant, and even though it appears to be parched, brown and dead, it will spring back to life the minute we get some rain. So don't waste precious tap water on it! Let it go brown and crispy for now.

Pots are particularly vulnerable to drought, so take them down off their “feet” and stand them in large saucers. This allows the water that would otherwise run straight through to be gradually soaked back up: it's a double win, because you apply less water (as soon as it appears in the saucer, stop adding it at the top), and that water has a chance to be soaked up, and be of benefit, instead of being wasted.

If you don't have any saucers, line a box with plastic (old compost/bark bags are good, even a bin liner will do) and stand the pots inside the box. It may not look pretty, but it will save the plants: and if you're clever, you can make a tasteful arrangement of them. Perhaps you could cover the front of the box with trailing foliage. Just remember to keep checking it for snails....

The best time to water is first thing in the morning, while it's still cool from the night air: the “worst” time to water is last thing at night, because the plants are shutting down operations and are not fully able to absorb all that lovely water - and you are creating super-luxurious damp conditions for the slugs and snails overnight!

As for watering in the mid-day sun being a waste of time and water, that's an urban myth: it does not all immediately evaporate, it mostly goes where it is needed, ie down into the soil, and it's only the very top layer that dries out quickly. It is far better to water very early in the morning: but it's better to water at noon, than to not water at all.

And just think, in a couple of weeks it will all be over, we'll be glumly sitting indoors looking at the rain, and wondering if we dreamt it all!

Comments (8)

  1. Grower

    Suzi

    Thank you Rachel :) I knew those compost bags would come in handy sometime!

  2. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Great post Rachel. Full of good advice. One of my favourite things in this weather is the lighter shades you get in the grass where there were previously walls and paths. Our garden is beginning to look like an archeological dig!

  3. Grower

    Cal

    You are always full of good advice and very useful tips …. what would we do without you. I would never have thought about the box and bin bag trick to keep plants well watered, thank you

  4. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    You are all most welcome. I'm happy to share any tips.

    Jeremy, that's a very interesting point - and gives me an idea for another post....(laughs).

  5. Grower

    David & Hazel In Chesterfield

    Very helpful and practical advice - thank you. I do read your posts but haven't left comments to your posts before, so please accept my thanks, and for you to know they are appreciated.

  6. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Dave and Hazel, thank you! You're very kind.

    And don't forget that if you have any questions, or want to know more about something which no-one has yet covered on this forum, do ask: just put up a post asking the question, and someone is bound to come up with an answer!

  7. Grower

    Clare

    Thanks for the advice about watering in the evening being less effective. I hadn't heard that before.

  8. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    You're welcome, Clare - as I said, watering in the heat of noon (or in the evening) is better than not watering at all... but early morning watering, if it can be done then, is the best.

    Not a problem this week! Yes, we're back to the usual British summer of rain, cloudy days, and not much sun - it's lovely!


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