July: i-watering

Well, if this weather doesn't persuade some of us to change our gardening ways, I am not sure what will!

There is nothing new in a British drought. However, free and cheap water on demand, short summers after wet springs followed by stormy autumns, are no longer a certainty. If ever there was a time to stand back and look at how and where you use your water, it is surely now.

So this month I am going to list ideas that hopefully will inspire and help you take steps that improve the storage and efficiency of garden water. You may need to make internet searches for more information, but I would like to introduce a range of options that are open to just about everyone with an outdoor space.

  • Watering cans are more accurate and efficient than hoses or sprinklers.
  • Keep the collection bucket off your lawnmower: let the cuttings stay on the lawn as this will reduce evaporation.
  • Re-use 'white' water where you can: 'white' water is household water that has not been in contact with the toilet waste. Measures include putting the plug in when taking a shower and scooping out what would have gone down the drain. You can empty your washing-up bowl onto plants, leaving the last bit with all the debris to be put in the bin to avoid attracting unwanted pests. Try running a hose from your bath or at least re-using what you have run! 
  • Fit irrigation systems activated by a timer: there are plenty of these on the market and by choosing the time and quantity to place where the outlets go, you can achieve a high level of efficiency.
  • Plan areas of the garden to have drought-tolerant plants: these will mostly be from Mediterranean countries but there are also a number of native species that are indigenous to sandy and chalky soils and will cope with drought conditions. Plants from these categories include: Sedums, Euphorbias, Ulex (gorse), Alchemilla mollis, Cistus, Helianthemum, many grasses and most herbs. You could even create a 'scree' zone by laying a geotextile membrane and covering it with different sized pebbles for interest.
  • Plan to apply mulch to your borders and specimen plants both in the autumn and in the spring: mulch (compost, manure, bark chippings, shredded coconut etc.) suppresses weeds that suck out valuable moisture in dry conditions, especially at the base of trees. Mulch also helps retain the moisture in the soil during drought conditions as well as adding organic matter to the soil.
  • Add plenty of organic matter to the soil in the autumn. Again, this will help retain the moisture as well as nutrients.
  • Create your own water storage systems: these can range from water butts to roof-water tanks set in the ground. There are a huge range of water butts now available on the market. They range from the usual green giants, to slim ones, to terracotta-looking butts and even a type with a fake metal finish. The attachments needed to make them operational are all readily available too. Some gardens have a series of water butts joined together that overflow one into another.
  • Disconnect your downpipes and channel the water where it can be stored: you can even create a mini-swimming pool! Children love playing with water: I recently installed a water tank that doubles-up as a deep paddling pool fed by movable guttering and water courses. This can be bucketed out if your plants are looking desperate for a drink.
  • Be creative: a few years ago I converted a cattle trough into a useful seat. It had a removable timber section to access the water: good to sit on and thoroughly useful!
  • Don't be too alarmed if your plants are beginning to wilt: in this weather they will start to look a bit yellow and the lawn will lose its colour. This is the plant's way of closing down its system in order to survive. The plants to focus on are the ones that have been planted in the past year: these are the most vulnerable and should be the priority for watering. They are often the larger specimens such as trees. A bucket or two of water a week should sustain them in this drought.

Improving the efficiency of water use is firstly about getting the right mind set. Pardon the pun - but everything else flows from that. Who thinks about saving water when it is pouring with rain in April? Well, truth be told, the smart gardeners do.

I do hope I haven't ruined your bath time.