Friday 28 November 2014

Gardeners must prune water use as new tax sets a thorny problem

Published 27/07/2014 | 02:30

Joanna Kiernan
Joanna Kiernan

It has been a ritual since man first gently teased out seedlings in spring, planted them in rich loam and waited for the heat of summer.

In the cool of the evening one of life's great pleasures for gardeners was the relaxing half an hour spent dousing the borders to refresh parched plants - especially after a heatwave like last week.

But this is the last summer plants will get a drink for free - at least from the tap.

The impending water charge which comes into effect in October means gardeners will need to plant cleverly and invest in water storage facilities to get beautiful blooms next year.

However, with a little common sense, gardening guru Gerry Daly believes the water charge should not impact on people irrigating their gardens and getting a blooming good show next summer.

He has noticed a change already.

"People don't actually use vast amounts of water on their gardens at all. Nobody waters their lawn these days and ordinary plants that are established more than a year don't need any water because they can cope with average rainfall. So the actual amount used on gardens is not very significant."

According to Gerry, only potted plants and young plants in the ground, which have not yet taken root, need to be watered.

However, there are ways we can reduce the amount of water used while gardening.

"If you use larger pots, they need less watering because first of all they retain more water, and secondly they won't dry out as fast because they have a smaller surface area by comparison with small pots," he explained.

"There are plants like Sedums that are much more tolerant of drought - or Saxifraga and Sempervivum- which can survive with less watering," he added. "But we have a natural supply of rainfall in Ireland so we don't have to use drought-adapted plants by and large, unless you live in an area of the country that has very dry, sandy soil."

For Michael Kelly, founder of Grow It Yourself (GIY) a network of people who grow their own food, rainwater harvesting is the simple solution to any gardener's water charge worries.

"We're pretty lucky in Ireland as we don't have drought periods per se, so if you have a water butt attached to the drain pipe at your house, it's going to be full most of the time," he said. "In Ireland there is not typically much need to be watering outside, it's only really after four or five days of no rain that you need to start thinking about it."

However, if you do need to water outside, Michael believes that the vegetable patch should be priority. "Even if you do incur more charges from watering your vegetable patch you are creating food, which is saving money on your food bills. Watering a lawn is literally money down the drain," he added.

Paddy Gleeson, head horticulturist with Woodies has witnessed a huge increase in customers looking for products to help them reduce the amount of water used in their gardens in recent months.

There is huge interest in water butts at the moment," he explained. "All of the bedding products that we sell now also have a water retention agent in them like aqua gels."

Established plants don't need watering, but bedding plants and hanging baskets do," Paddy Gleeson added. "Maybe the lazy gardener is going to go to his tap, but the keen gardener who wants colour and impact is going to use recycled water."

SEVEN TIPS FOR A HOSEPIPE-FREE GARDEN:

* Collect rainwater to use in the garden.

* Start using a rose-head watering can instead of a hose.

* Do not water your lawn or plants that have established roots in the soil.

* Check outdoor taps and pipes for leaks.

* Get a compost bin.

* Prepare your soil.

* Invest in some more drought-resistant potted plants.

Sunday Independent

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