Apparently a No Deal Brexit could threaten our water supplies, as the chemicals used for water treatment are imported from the EU and can’t be stockpiled in any quantity. Even if we dodge that bullet, climate change and population increases mean England could run out of water in the next 25 years. The chief executive of the Environment Agency wants wasting water to become socially unacceptable, and it’s a good bet that garden sprinklers – which in one hour use as much water as the average person does in a week – will become as frowned upon as smoking indoors.
None of us wants to see our well-tended gardens turn brown and crispy in a summer drought (which climate change is making more likely), but there are some easy ways that you can improve the water efficiency of your garden. The upside of water-wise gardening is that your garden will look better for longer in hot weather and survive when you go away on holiday. Watering becomes less of a chore and you can also reduce your dependence on mains water – a definite advantage if there’s a hose-pipe ban, or if you have a water meter.
The first thing to consider is whether you can find a home for a water butt. These are usually connected to the down pipe from your guttering so that they collect water as it runs off from the roof. If you can find a space for one or more butts then you have a free source of water, and rain water is better for plants too. Many local councils and water companies offer subsidised water butts to households because of the benefits they bring. If you’re worried about aesthetics, then shop around – there are many water butts on the market that will blend into any landscape.
Next you should add as much organic matter to your soil as possible. It doesn’t matter whether it’s leaf mould, home-made compost, commercial compost or well-rotted manure, but organic matter in the soil holds water and reduces the need for watering. Leaving your organic matter on the soil as a mulch (rather than digging it in) will have an extra effect, as a mulch reduces evaporation from the soil surface.
When you do water, water at the base of plants so that the water goes to the roots where it is needed instead of evaporating off of foliage. Try to avoid watering during the heat of the day, and use a hose with a trigger gun so that you’re not wasting water on paths and uncultivated areas. Water well once or twice a week rather than little and often. Daily watering encourages many plants to grow shallow roots – leaving them more vulnerable in dry weather.
Check whether a plant needs water by pushing your finger a short way down into the soil – even when the surface is dry the soil underneath may still be damp.
Lawns, ornamental plantings and tree fruits can benefit from the use of grey water – water that has been used for washing up or bath water, for example. Grey water can’t be stored (because of the dirt and detergents it contains) and it’s not safe to use on leafy vegetables, but it can breathe new life into the garden. If you use grey water, spread it around to avoid any potential problems with the build-up of detergents in the soil.
If you have a drought-prone garden, the best thing you can do is too choose your plants with this in mind. Mature perennial plants are generally more drought-tolerant than annuals, and there are many plants that love drier conditions.
- Don’t mow your lawn as short in hot weather – longer grass is more drought-resistant and stays greener for longer.
- Water in the early morning, or late evening, to reduce evaporation and increase the amount of water that gets to plant roots.
- Choose drought resistant plants. Established perennials and Mediterranean plants like lavender have much lower water needs.
- When you do water, concentrate on plants that really need it – container plants, seedlings and fruiting vegetables.