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The RHS advises how to conserve water use in the garden
The RHS advises how to conserve water use in the garden
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The RHS advises how to conserve water use in the garden

With summer just round the corner, gardeners in many areas of the country including London are facing the extra challenges that gardening brings with the constraints of a drought. During the run up to the Chelsea Flower Show and the start of summer The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) shows how with a little preparation you can still have a beautiful garden despite dwindling water supplies.

The RHS, the UK’s leading gardening charity, is encouraging gardeners to use water responsibly in the coming months. There are a huge number of drought resistant plants that can thrive in the UK, and measures that can be taken to limit water use in the garden.

“I’d urge gardeners to get a water butt, if they haven’t already” said Guy Barter, Head of RHS Horticultural Advisory Services. “Using collected rain water is a great way to irrigate the garden, and gardeners should make the most of any downpours between now and the height of summer.’

The RHS suggests the following tips to make sure you are well prepared for the summer and water wisely:

Planning
• Invest in water butts, more than one if you have space. There may be enough rain to fill them between now and summer, and a summer storm will usefully top them up.
• Buy and plant new plants as soon as possible so they get the best chance of growing the roots they’ll need to seek for water when the dry weather begins.
• Raise plants from seed – those sown in situ always have better roots than transplanted ones.  Escholtzia (California poppy) and sunflowers are strong rooted and drought resistant.
• Feed lawns and other plants with fertiliser, this will give them the resources to grow new roots and make the best use of the water in the soil.
• Plan to limit numbers of hanging baskets and small containers unless you can keep them in shady spots. Larger containers are easier to keep watered and ‘plant for plant’ use less water.
• Invest time in eliminating weeds as soon as they show themselves in spring – weeds suck valuable moisture out of the soil.
• Don’t do any major digging now as disturbing the soil leads to increased loss of soil moisture.

• Mulching has some effect in reducing moisture loss from the soil, but more importantly controls annual weeds and reduces the need for hoeing, which disturbs soil (see above).
• Include more drought tolerant plants in your planting schemes.  Some tough bedding plants such as Pelargonium, Mesembryanthemum and Portulaccas are especially drought tolerant and ideal for sunny beds and borders.
• Lawns are very water dependent; accept that established lawns will develop dry patches during a drought. Making a new lawn now could be disastrous if there is no rain, so try to delay lawn making until September. If sprinklers are banned in your area, it will be hard to keep alive lawns laid in June.

Effective watering
• Water directly around the roots of plants; watering the leaves is wasteful as a high proportion evaporates.
• Water less frequently but more thoroughly and this will encourage plants to extend their roots deeper into the soil and make them hardier.
• Don't water in the heat of the day as the water will evaporate before it reaches the roots. The best time to water is in the early morning or evening.
• Well-established trees, shrubs and lawns don’t need watering. Even if lawns turn a bit brown they should recover once summer is over and rain becomes more frequent.
• Check soil to a depth of 30cm to see if it’s dry and therefore whether you really need to water. Don’t forget to pay attention to weather forecasts, if rain is forecast hold back on watering.

The RHS also advises that you ‘recycle’ water where appropriate. “Many people want to know if you can use waste water on the garden and the answer is in theory ‘yes’,” said Guy Barter. “You can use washing-up and bath water where practical and make sure activities like washing vegetables and salad leaves are done in a bowl, so that the water can be used on the garden too.”

The RHS advisory team and a Thames water representative are on hand through out the Chelsea Flower Show so visitors can seek further help and advice about how to look after the garden during a drought. Thames Water and the RHS have also produced a ‘water in the garden’ advice leaflet, which will be available to pick up at the show and can be downloaded from the RHS website.

For further advice about water visit www.rhs.org.uk and follow the link from the home page.