Friday 24 May 2019

Gerry Daly's guide to saving your garden in a heatwave

Garden expert Gerry Daly. Photo: David Conachy
Garden expert Gerry Daly. Photo: David Conachy

As the temperatures soar and drought conditions begin to bite, it is important to conserve water as much as possible, and every small saving can make a cumulative difference.

Apart from the things that are standard for every household, what can garden enthusiasts do in their own space to simultaneously save their plants from being damaged and avoid unnecessary water use?

Domestic lawn watering is very rare and largely just does not happen, as it would be a complete waste of time in any case.

A lawn browned by severe drought will recover within a couple of weeks' renewed normal rainfall.

Whatever about lawns, people sometimes water flowers and shrubs in drought, but this kind of spasmodic watering can cause even more damage when it proves to be of marginal value and is withdrawn.

It is much better to allow plants to make their own adjustments. As soon as the weather gets hot and dry, most plants immediately go into survival mode.

Wilting during the hot part of the day is the first part of the strategy.

Then the lowest, oldest, most shaded, inefficient leaves are shed. Then flowers and developing seed pods may be aborted. In extreme cases, the plant may become dormant and die back.

But this is extreme, the result only of prolonged severe drought. In general, established plants should be allowed to simply tough it out. They literally do become tougher with a tougher skin to hold moisture. Young plants need watering as they have not yet got a fully functioning root system. Water only relatively newly planted ones.

Plants in pots can be moved into the shade to reduce heating and moisture loss. And they can be trained to need less water by gradually reducing amounts. Vegetables practically all need at least some watering, especially potatoes, sweetcorn, courgettes, peas, beans and lettuce. Many vegetables go to seed quickly in a drought - another survival stratagem. Raised beds are a disaster to water in a drought.

Grey-leaved, silvery and hairy plants, and those with small rolled leaves and swollen succulent leaves are most resistant to drought. It might prove wise to plant more of these specially adapted plants, such as yucca, verbascum, lavender, astelia, sedum, stachys, heather, rosemary and others, particularly on light soil.

Mulching around flowers and shrubs with any form of organic material helps to reduce soil heating and losing moisture by evaporation. Waste washing water can be used on plants without harm but it means undoing the drainage pipe on washing machines and dishwashers, if these are used at all, or washing up done in a basin to save water for watering plants.

Sunday Independent

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