With the climate changing every year, it seems that in some parts of the country drought is becoming an annual event. And while there’s little more depressing that watching your beloved plants curl up and die, there are a host of ways to keep your garden green and healthy through even the driest periods.
Add Organic Matter
Soil that contains lots of sand can dry out in next to no time. Organic matter – whether that’s leaf mould or farmyard manure – help to reverse this trend. They allow the soil to hold more moisture around the roots of the plants, rather than it seeping down out of reach.
A slightly more expensive method involves the use of moisture-control pellets, which can be bought from many garden centres, and then sprinkled liberally around your most sensitive plants.
One of the problems with hot, dry weather is that water on the surface of the soil can evaporate away so quickly. Keeping this contained, so that your plants can absorb as much as possible is therefore a critical step in the fight against drought.
A range of different mulches can serve the purpose. A thick layer of straw, forest bark chippings or even grass clippings can all help to keep weeds at bay while helping to keep your plants moist.
Consider Ground Cover Plants
Possibly cheaper and less time-intensive to install are plants which cover the ground. From squashes and pumpkins, through to flower like nasturtiums and trailing lobelia, a range of plants will grow helpfully across the surface of your soil. In doing so they act just like mulch, creating shade and reducing the rate at which water evaporates from the soil.
Planted early in the season they’ll be a good size before the hot weather rolls around, ready to protect even the most sensitive of garden plants.
Use Drought-Resistant Plants
It’s no secret that some plants cope far better with dry conditions that others. Succulent plants like house leeks tend to cope well with dry conditions, as do those from the Mediterranean area.
So if drought is becoming a more regular experience in your part of the world, consider growing more plants that have evolved to deal with more arid conditions.
When it comes to shopping for drought-resistant plants, fleshy and/or silver leaves are a good sign of a plant that will cope under drier conditions.
While even wild plants will die under the most extreme conditions, the reality is that many species have become specially adapted to the environment in which they live. This means that native plants tend to cope far better with a lack of water.
So take a look around the countryside near you, to get some ideas of what is growing well. Then consider factoring these into your garden design.
Alternatively, create a “wild” area of your garden, to mimic the appearance of nature, using plants that have evolved to thrive in such areas.
It goes without saying, but in a drought its important to water deeply and thoroughly on a regular basis to allow your garden plants to drink.
Generally speaking its better to water in the evenings, as the sun goes to bed and the temperature starts to fall. Doing so will minimize the water that evaporates, as well as the chance of any burns to your plants.
As hose-pipe bans are not uncommon in lean times, it can also be wise to invest in a water butt or two, into which you can siphon rainwater from your roof. Kept sealed with a lid, this reservoir can be a great failsafe when water is at a premium.
Lastly, aim not to just water the surface of the soil, but to water deeply. We want that water to soak deep into the soil, where it can reach the roots. Building a small “wall” around the base of sensitive plants, and then watering directly into this, can help to direct the precious water to your plant’s roots, rather than it spreading over the surface of the soil.
Lastly, note that any weeds present in your garden will also absorb water – water that would probably be better placed if available to your cultivated plants. It’s a good move, therefore, to make a special effort during dry periods to remove any unwanted weeds. Doing so will ensure a better supply of moisture for your beloved garden.
(Images c/o Tejvan Pettinger, Local Food Initiative, ababh, torbakhopper, RebeccaVC1, Anne Worner)