Diarmuid Gavin: Bring on the rain

If you’re a regular reader of the column you’ll know that I have been doing a lot of planting in my own garden this year. Finally I’ve put down roots and conquered the half-acre.

It’s a blaze of colour, full of perennials that were left over from show gardens over the years and special plants – some rare and unusual oddities that I’ve picked up along the way – for which the soil has been dug, cleaned and composted before they were bedded in.

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I was delighted to see the end of a very long winter but our climate has a tendency to be a little psychotic with one supposedly summer’s day being miserably cold and damp and the next giving us the most glorious Barbados-like heat.

Plants, like us, are mainly made up of water and they need plenty of it – plenty to get established and plenty to grow. But when there’s been little rain for even a couple of weeks, or at least no proper rain that really wets the soil and quenches the thirsty roots, it’s a problem. So how do we approach this dilemma from a practical point of view?

Prioritise your watering. Newly planted shrubs, trees and herbaceous plants have yet to establish deep roots so will need assistance first. Fruit and veg will also be high up on your list as they need plenty of H20 to produce their bounty. Mature trees and shrubs will be the most resilient.

Avoid watering during the day when evaporation is at its fastest – early morning or late evening is best. Direct the water to the base of the plant around its stem. If your soil is bone dry, water slowly to allow it to sink in gradually.

Pots and containers are always thirsty so will need watering twice daily. If you can, move them to the shade and group together where they can create a microclimate and shade each other. For future reference, use water gels when planting up pots and hanging baskets.

Don’t panic if leaves start dropping or going brown. Your plant is going into survival mode and is trying to reduce its requirements for water. It may also shed flowers and fruit in an attempt to batten down the hatches.

Take a break from mowing the lawn. Mowing it now will only put stress on it. If it’s already gone yellow, don’t worry; it will recover quickly once the rains return.

Don’t use fertiliser on plants – you don’t want to encourage any growth at the moment as this increases the plant’s requirements for water.

Remove weeds – they are using up valuable moisture.

Running out of water? Grey water from baths or the washing-up bowl is all reusable on plants.

If this is an annual problem for you, plan ahead. Install water butts to collect rainwater as a resource. Improved soil culture is essential for water retention too. Make your own compost and when you are planting put a bucket full of good humus material around the roots. This will act like a capillary bed and clothe the roots in damper compost which sucks up all the moisture when added and makes it easy and freely available to those tiny roots that drink it in.

Consider planting more drought-tolerant plants that don’t require a huge amount of water so anything with furry silvery leaves such as stachys, verbascum and salvias, and Mediterranean species such as rosemary, thyme and lavender. Plants with succulent leaves such as Sedum spectabile, waxy leaves like Pittosporum and spikey Acanthus and Eryngium are good choices as well.

Finally, remember to keep yourself hydrated as well while gardening in the heat!

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