Coping with water shortages

During the summer months, demand for water in the garden will often outstrip supply; it’s an unfortunate fact that plants need the most water when it is least available. Usually garden usage accounts for about 3% of household consumption.  This can rise to as high as 70 per cent during the summer months. The increase in water needs is mainly due to water being lost from the ground due to evaporation; a 200m2 garden can lose up to 4800 litres of water during 10 days of dry weather.  The most efficient way of saving water in the garden therefore, is to protect the existing moisture in the soil from evaporation.  Creating sheltered areas of the garden through tree and shrub cover is important; although this is not always practical in areas where both plant and human life needs access to the summer sun.

The best method of protection from evaporation is mulching; applying an insulating layer of material on the soil and around the base of plants.  Mulching has other benefits too; it protects the soil from erosion; provides an even soil temperature and prevents weed growth.  Whilst grass clipping and dead leaves can provide effective cover, they can be unsightly and smell unpleasant. Dunscar Garden Centre stocks a variety of bark and wood chip mulches, which as well as protecting the soil from evaporation, provide an attractive ‘finished’ look to the garden. Simply spread a two-inch layer around trees, shrubs and in beds.  Leave a gap of an inch or two around the trunk or stem. Similarly you can protect your lawns by setting your mower at a higher level to provide more insulation.  This also means grass can concentrate on strengthening roots, enabling the grass itself to become more efficient at gathering and retaining water.

Of course it is still vital to water your garden frequently, particularly during the last few weeks of Summer, when resources are exhausted and there is a real risk of drought stress, or even permanent wilting.  The best way of avoiding strain on water resources is to create your own water supply by collecting rainwater run-off.  Although popular with some, it is best to avoid large areas of low-maintenance non-porous paving as this prevents water reaching the soil, directing it instead to overstretched drainage systems which can cause flooding problems.  At Dunscar Garden Centre, we collect all our rainwater; run-off from our glasshouses is directed into our irrigation pit which holds nearly 1/2 million litres. This is the supply we use to water all our plants by hand.  You can adopt a similar approach by investing in a water butt. This is a worthwhile investment, creating a permanent on-demand supply of water.  At Dunscar we have a variety of water collection apparatus and our staff will be happy to help you select the best equipment for your needs.

When it comes to watering the garden, the watering can is by far the best method. Not only does it use less water, but it is much more efficient, enabling the roots of the plants to get all the water; whereas spraying with a hosepipe drenches the entire plant, leaving a large surface area which evaporates, often scorching leaves in the process.  Light watering is counter-productive for the same reason. It is best therefore to give the garden a thorough watering at least once a week, ensuring that the soil is watered enough to reach ‘field capacity’; the optimum condition for growing, where air, water and nutrients are held in the soil by a thin film of water.  It is best to water in the evenings or early morning when it is cooler, to ensure the water has time to soak into the soil properly. Again our plant advisors can assist further and advise you on what to use and how best to water your garden.

Useful link: http://www.cambridge-water.co.uk/customers/water-in-the-garden