Thanks to the recent heatwave and lockdown, many UK families have been spending more time than normal in their garden. Hot, sunny weather is fantastic, of course, but weeks of very little rain do take their toll on lawns, annuals, perennials, vegetables, and everything else in your garden. The only things that seem impervious to hot weather and no rain are weeds!
We receive a lot of questions around why a plant isn’t healthy or has died and a lot of the time it’s due to incorrect watering. So, we figured it would be a good idea to write a blog post on the subject. Hopefully, the good weather will stick around a bit longer, just in case it does, read on to learn more about watering your garden.
All plants need water; even drought-resistant species need some water to survive. The UK climate is fairly wet, so for much of the year, you won’t need to water borders, but on hot, dry days, tubs, containers, and hanging baskets will definitely need a drink. When you purchase plants and put them in your garden, take time to do a little bit of research to see what kind of conditions they like. If they like full sun then its likely they won’t mind being kept on the dry side, lavender, rosemary and Mediterranean plants are all examples. Shade loving plants such as Ferns and Hosta’s don’t mind it damp.
A quick spritz with the watering can is not enough. During hot weather, your plants will need a significant amount of water to remain healthy. Too little water causes drought stress, which kills less resilient plants. In order to reduce your impact on the environment, consider installing water butts to collect rainwater, the plants prefer this to tap water too!
Water each container or area of bed long enough to allow the water to penetrate deep into the soil. If you are watering a hanging basket, don’t stop until the water is dripping out of the base of the basket. It’s sensible to place a container beneath your hanging basket, to catch the excess water to use elsewhere. If your containers have dried out significantly go over them twice as compost acts like a sponge and once its damp it takes in water more quickly. Remember that not all containers, baskets and borders need the same amount of water. How quickly they dry out will depend on their position, IE. Whether they are in full/ part sun, under large/ mature trees or hedges and whether the soil is heavy or light. You’ll get a feel for this when you water regularly, as you’ll notice some areas seem to dry out quicker than others and some of the plants grow or look healthier in certain areas.
Overwatering can be just as detrimental to plant health as under watering. Plants do not like to be sitting in water, so make sure you are only watering when its necessary. Its best to use the finger test for baskets and containers to assess if you need to water them. Simply poke your finger into the compost, if its damp/ wet when you pull your finger out then there’s probably enough moisture in it and it doesn’t need watering. Its better to keep things on the dry side rather than wet, as you can always add water if required, you can’t remove it if you apply to much! You can usually tell if plants are in need of a drink as their leaves and flowers will start to droop, if they start to turn yellow and drop off then it’s in distress and needs watering ASAP.
If your lawn is looking brown, fear not because it will recover once the weather turns wet again. It’s very resilient. However, if you would rather not look at a sun-baked wasteland, set up a lawn sprinkler on a timer; they are best used in the early morning and evening, to avoid sunburn and evaporation.
When is the Best Time to Water Plants?
The best time is not necessarily the most convenient time. Ideally, water your plants early in the morning or last thing in the evening. Many gardeners like to inspect their gardens in the evening, when it’s quiet, which makes it an ideal time to switch the hose pipe on and give everything a nice soak.
Do not water your garden in the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky. Any water you add to plants will barely have time to soak in before it evaporates in the heat. There is also a danger that you will end up with scorched leaves, especially on big leaved plants like begonias. Also try to water plants at the base rather than on the leaves. Wet leaves can trigger many plant diseases like mildew, especially with vegetables plants like cucumbers and courgettes.
Hosepipes Vs. Watering Cans
Hosepipes are a convenient way to water a large garden but do check to make sure there isn’t a hosepipe ban in place.
Watering cans are handy for smaller gardens or lone containers on a patio and can get right in under foliage but use a fine spray attachment to ensure water is effectively dispersed.
For very thirsty shrubs and trees, sink a plastic pipe into the ground next to the roots so you can water roots directly. A used plastic milk container or juice bottle is handy if you don’t have a piece of plastic pipe. This is an excellent way of keeping trees watered until they are fully established. If you have a number of shrubs or a young hedge, a soaker hose is a great way to ensure the ground is kept moist. This type of hose is made from a porous material and allows droplets to pass through the walls of the pipe. These slowly soak into the ground meaning there is little evaporation.
If you have a large garden, you may want to consider an automatic irrigation system. These can be tailor-made to suit the layout with different attachments fitted to pipes to water different plants. They are usually set up on timers so you can just sit back and enjoy the garden without the worry of keeping it watered. They aren’t cheap, but if you’ve spent a significant amount on plants then they are worthwhile investment.
If you have any questions about watering specific plants, just ask one of the team!