Wilting artichokes

The weather is warm and sunny again, and I’m wilting (slightly) faster than the plants. It’s at times like this that I’m grateful for designing the garden with raised beds – they’re nice and deep and hold plenty of moisture, and the plants in them can last days between watering, even in the hottest weather.

Sadly, though, not everything in the garden is in a raised bed! There are some thirsty plants out there, and every time the sun comes out I ponder whether we need some sort of automatic watering system. (Actually, I have a semi-automatic irrigation system – Ryan has confessed he enjoys watering the garden!)

A regular supply of water is important for most plants, but particularly in the kitchen garden in the summer. If plants run out of water and start to droop, they have stopped growing, which can mean smaller harvests. And watering is critical for tomatoes, for example. If they experience a drought and are then watered, it can cause fruits to split. And blossom end rot is a disease caused by a lack of calcium, but for which the root cause is a lack of water to transport the mineral around the plants. I put some hints and tips about how and when to water in my article on water-wise gardening.

The Big Dripper

There are some easy things you can do to reduce your plants’ reliance on you for water. Mulch the surface of the soil (with bark chips or gravel, etc.), to prevent water evaporating from the surface. If you garden in containers then use the largest ones you can, so that you have a larger volume of soil holding water. You can buy (or make) pots that have a water reservoir in the bottom, and these are very useful for thirsty plants. Otherwise, sit pots in a saucer or tray to catch any water which filters through; it will be absorbed as needed. Pots can be moved into the shade until the weather cools down a bit. Indoors and in the greenhouse, you can think about sitting pots on capillary matting that is dipping into a water reservoir; providing the whole system is wet when you start (and stays wet!) then plants will draw the water they need up from the matting. There are also various watering spikes and bulbs that you fill up and push into plant pots, that can help keep individual plants watered.

But if you want a truly automatic watering system, then a little thought and planning is required. I do own a sprinkler, but I have never used it. Sprinklers work well in large, traditional kitchen gardens, where every drop of water will fall on the soil. You can use them with timing devices, so that they turn on and off automatically. In my garden, a lot of water would fall onto paths and be wasted. I also prefer to water the garden with rain water whenever possible, because it’s more environmentally friendly, and cheaper, and the plants seem to prefer rainwater.

Leaky soaker hoses are usually a better solution, as they direct water exactly where it needs to go. Soaker hoses are looped around the garden as it’s planted up, and can either be attached to the hosepipe or to the water butt. You can turn them on/off manually, or invest in an automated system to do that for you. The hose itself is buried just under the soil, so it’s very unobtrusive. You can get similar systems for pots, which have individual drippers that are pushed into each container, and connect up to your outside tap. (My last garden, which is larger than this one, didn’t have an outside tap!)

Watering perennial sweet peas

Ryan (the garden’s Chief Engineer) is still pondering the best solution for this garden.

Do you enjoy watering or do you wish you had a watering robot to do it for you? Are you a hosepipe person, or a ‘zen and the watering can’ kind of gardener? Or do you just do a rain dance, in the hope the weather will solve the problem for you?