On long hot summer days, soil can dry out quickly and leave plants thirsty and struggling, so it is important to water your garden regularly throughout the season.
Water is vital for plants to produce strong healthy roots, lush green foliage, colourful flowers and, if you grow your own produce, juicy fruits and vegetables. Follow these top tips to keep your garden effectively watered this summer and your plants will be happy all season long.
Direct your watering efforts
Different plants and soil types make for different watering needs and knowing which areas and plants will need a little extra TLC will help you to direct your watering efforts to best effect throughout the summer.
Containers and hanging baskets dry out much more quickly than garden beds and borders, so if you only have a spare five minutes to devote to watering, it’s best to focus on these.
Bear in mind that smaller containers will dry out faster than larger ones, as will those in sunny spots versus those in shade.
When it’s very hot, containers will usually need watering every day (sometimes even twice a day!). To water, fill the container at the plant bases until the water level rises above the soil, allow this to soak through and repeat the process. This ensures that all of the compost in the pot has been adequately moistened each time.
The best way to determine whether your containers need water is to press a finger into the soil up to the second knuckle—if it feels dry, it needs water, if it is moist, it can be left a little longer.
Alternatively, if you don’t fancy getting your hands dirty every time, you can buy a moisture meter. These meters have prongs which you push into the soil and a dial which gives you an immediate reading on moisture content, telling you whether you need to water or not.
Whatever method you use, always check below the soil surface since the top of the soil can look and feel dry when there is actually adequate water further down.
Another important place to focus your watering efforts is on newly planted areas and trees.
In their first few years in your garden, trees and perennials work hard to establish a deep root structure that will give them access to ground water and help to protect them from drought in years to come.
This is why your long-standing plants and trees need less water than your new additions.
Until they are established, new plants will need a good soaking about two to three times a week in hot spells—but again, checking the feel of the soil or using a moisture meter will help you to determine watering need.
Ensuring that you water these plants deeply will encourage the growth of deep roots, helping the plant to withstand drier conditions in years to come.
Vegetable and fruit plants that are in crop also need a good, steady water supply, since fruit and vegetables are made largely of water!
Things like apples, currants, gooseberries and tomatoes all fall into this category.
If the water supply fluctuates as fruit is growing, it can cause fruit to split or rot before it’s ripe.
Focusing attention on these plants can help to ensure you get a good yield, even in very dry summers.
Another factor to bear in mind is that different soil types will make for different watering requirements. Clay soils are more water-retentive than sandy ones, so your garden may need more or less watering than a relative’s across town. Be careful, though—clay soils can feel wet when the available water has been used, whilst sandy soils may feel dry even when there’s sufficient water available.
Watch your plants carefully to see how they respond to different levels of watering. Darkened leaves which are held slightly lower than usual are an early sign that plants could do with a drink!
It can be tempting to think that the garden has been adequately watered after a rain shower, but in hot weather showers sometimes only penetrate the first few millimetres of the soil before evaporating, leaving deeper roots parched below the surface.
The same can sometimes be true of a sprinkler system—unless left on for long periods of time, sprinklers can be guilty of lightly misting only the top of the soil, leaving the soil beneath dry as a bone.
In addition, soaking the foliage of a plant can encourage diseases to take hold and can make the plant vulnerable to sun scorch in the midday sun.
A better method is to use a hose with a soaker attachment to direct water at the plant stem beneath the foliage canopy.
Use the hose to put a gradual and thorough soak onto the soil that will sink deep down to the roots. You’re best to wet the soil for a good few minutes, allow the water to soak into the soil, and then return for a second soaking a few minutes later. You might even build up a soil basin around plant roots, which you can fill with water and allow to sink down gradually. In my garden, I use the expandable Yoyo hosepipe by FITT. Lightweight and easy to store when not in use, this hose expands to twice its original size when filled with water! This amazing hose makes even the furthest reaches of your garden accessible.
Another option is to sink an upside down plastic bottle with the lid and base removed into the soil—you can fill this up with water and allow it to gradually seep deep down into the soil where it is needed most.
If you have a large garden, you might want to invest in a watering system that doesn’t require watering individual plants by hand.
Seep hoses are available which weep water through small holes along their length and snaking a hose like this through a garden border will allow you to water a large number of plants directly at their roots with a mere turn of your garden tap.
A micro-irrigation system, with spaghetti-like lines spreading from a central unit that can be plugged into soil, does the same thing for pots and containers. Buying a computerised fixture for your outdoor tap in addition will enable you to program in a watering schedule, keeping your plants watered while you are away with minimal effort. Garden centres often have great ideas for self-watering systems that you can buy or make at home.
Reduce water loss
The biggest factor in reducing water loss is the time of day that you choose to water your plants.
If you water in the midday heat, a lot of water will evaporate off the surface of the soil before it has a chance to penetrate further down.
To eliminate this problem, the best time to water is early morning or early evening when the temperature is cooler and water can fully saturate the soil.
If you’re watering roses, which are susceptible to fungi, watering in the morning may prove better.
This gives water time to soak into the soil, without hanging around long enough to support the growth of water-loving pests.
Another great way to limit water loss, is to apply a mulch around your plants.
Mulch your plants
to reduce watering
This can be in the form of biodegradable organic material, like bark or mushroom compost, or non-biodegradable material, like gravel or slate chips.
Mulches prevent water from evaporating easily off the surface of the soil since they hide the top layer from direct sun.
As an added benefit, they deter weeds (which will suck the moisture out of soil if given half a chance) and certain types keep away pests like slugs (which don’t like crawling over anything dry and sharp, e.g. gravel).
Biodegradable mulches will also eventually break down and add vital nutrients back into the soil. Good all round!
For plants in containers, using larger pots which reduce the surface area of the soil, helping it to retain moisture.
You can also add materials to the soil before planting to make it more moisture retentive.
Most garden centres sell hydration crystals, which hold small reservoirs of water and make the compost easier to wet when it dries out.
Bear in mind, though, that these won’t significantly reduce the need for watering, since your plants will still lose a lot of water through their leaves.
Self-watering hanging baskets with a reservoir in the base from which plants can draw water as needed can be a good option, too.
Don’t forget that an easy way to prevent container plants from drying out too quickly is to move them to a spot where they are not in day long sunshine, while moving them away from walls and shelter when rain is forecast will help them to catch more water than they otherwise might.
This can be an especially good strategy if you’re going away for a few days!
If lifting your plant pots sounds like too much effort, you might want to purchase some pot wheels.
These are little castors with a small surface on which to sit your containers so that you can wheel them around at will. Lots allow you to lock the wheels into position so that they won’t move about unnecessarily.
This gives you the flexibility to put your pots wherever you want them without the heavy lifting.
Watering the lawn
Lawns can sometimes require huge quantities of water throughout the summer to stay looking fresh and green and some people regard sprinkler systems as a waste of water.
To avoid having to irrigate your lawn as often, simply mow less closely and less often. The more blades there are, the more moisture the grass will be able to hold.
Less work for you, less work for your lawn—it’s win-win! Setting your mower to its highest setting and allowing your lawn to sit at a good 3 inches or higher will help it to resist browning during dry spells.
For more tips on how to keep your lawn looking great this summer, see here.
Another option for saving water is a water butt.
These are inexpensive and allow you to collect the rainwater that falls onto the roof of your house or shed, saving it for later watering which doesn’t use up large amounts of tap water.
Some water butts even come with planting areas on top, so that you can make them blend nicely into your garden alongside your plants.
Drought resistant plants
A final measure is to fill your garden with plants that can tolerate dry conditions. A few herbs that fall into this category are Rosmarinus (Rosemary), Lavendula (Lavender), and Salvia (Sage).
For beautiful drought-resistant blooms, choose the fantastic purple bell flowers of Agapanthus (African lily).
Alternatively, go for hardy Yucca (Spanish bayonet) plants for their dramatic spiked foliage and long panicles of flowers that survive well in the heat.
All of these plants do well in dry conditions and, of course, look or smell fantastic.
For even more suggestions, use the RHS plant finder and check the box to search for plants that prefer well-drained soil.
Putting all of these watering tips together will keep your garden healthy, hydrated and looking its best throughout the summer months.