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Gardeners Advice

Wise watering
19 May

Wise watering

Posted By: rocket veg Category: Plant Care

Ok, so we’ve had a few drops of rain this week, so why an article about watering, I hear you mutter. As well as giving the ground a thorough soaking, the wonderful rain on Tuesday and Wednesday has replenished barrels and tanks, so no excuses for resorting to mains water (which is what I ended up doing during the long, dry spell). I don’t have much faith in long-term weather forecasts, but if the recent pattern of summer weather holds true for 2017, we are likely to have more dry spells, so here, in four simple steps, is my guide to being a Wise Waterer.

Step one: conserve water

All gardeners – especially those of us who love growing veg - should aim to conserve rainwater, so if you don’t have guttering on your shed, greenhouse or polytunnel, linked up to a suitable container, add it to your list of ‘To Dos’. Your water collection system doesn’t have to be a posh affair: discarded lengths of guttering and pipe are often to be seen sticking out from the skip outside a house which is being renovated and various places in and around Bristol give away or sell recycled plastic barrels. If you have space behind or alongside your garden shed, link several barrels together with hose so that water is siphoned between them during storage and subsequent use. Using rainwater stored on your own plot – close to where it will be needed - also saves fetching and carrying from a distant tap or tank.

Step two: ingenious irrigation

When watering, aim to give plants a thorough soaking every few days, rather than a quick sprinkle each time you visit your allotment. Light watering can actually do more harm than good, failing to reach the main roots and encouraging surface roots to develop which then dry quickly when the sun shines. Some veg plants, such as cabbages, grow strong by searching out moisture deep in the soil, putting down long roots in the process. If at all possible, do your watering first thing in the morning, or late evening when evaporation rates are at their slowest.

If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse or polytunnel, how about setting up a simple irrigation system which wicks water on a slow and steady basis to the plants which need it most. More ingenuity required…

Step three: take good care of your soil

Soil management is a huge topic in its own right and subject to countless research studies and lengthy articles. When it comes to wise watering, adding organic matter to your soil on a regular basis increases the soil’s moisture-retention properties by the equivalent of 50mm of rain during the year after it was added – enough to supply plants for at least 20 days.

Mulching around plants with organic matter, such as a thick layer of grass clippings, leaves, bark chippings, not only slows the rate of evaporation from the soil but also deters weed growth. In time, the ‘mulch matter’ becomes incorporated into the soil. Avoid mulching when the ground is dry as any subsequent rainfall will struggle to reach the plant roots.

Step four: prudent planting

Plant fruit bushes, fruit trees and soft fruit plants during the autumn and winter when the plants are dormant, requiring less water and the soil should be well-soaked.  When buying seed or plants, choose drought-tolerant varieties if available. Salad crops, tomatoes, courgettes and peas are all at the thirty end of the watering spectrum. Once established, sweetcorn, squash and pumpkins require much less.

Without wishing for a wet summer, I hope we have enough rainfall over the coming weeks to keep our tanks full and water bills down. 

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