May 11 ‘ Desperate for Rain’

WHATEVER happened to April showers! In this part of the country we have had an exceptionally dry few months with some places recording less than 1mm of rainfall. That’s a tenth of what we usually get. This is has been quite nice for us but it’s been disastrous for our gardens.

 Already the grass is looking yellow and stunted, rather than green and vigorous, and the soil is as dry as dust with cracks so wide you can stick your fingers in them. We’ve seen plants literally shrivelling up and dying due to lack of water. You might expect this in August but not in May. This is quite worrying, especially as there is no significant rain in the forecast. It’s fast becoming another 1976!

 The farmers are pulling their hair out and the poor folk finishing off their gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show this weekend have been frantically swapping plants at the last minute as many things have finished flowering due to the early spring.

 Here are some things you can do to beat the hosepipe ban before it comes;

 1. Recycle bath and washing water (Grey water) – It is best if you use organic, environmentally friendly products for washing your hands etc so that the water doesn’t harm the plants when you reuse it.

 2. Water at the right time of day – morning or evening is best to reduce evaporation.

 3. Collect rain water with water buts- some plants prefer it such as Rhododendrons and Camellias.

 4. Group pots together in the shade, and take hanging baskets down and stick in the shade in heat of the sun. If you keep all your pots together they are easier to keep watered and if you keep them close to the house you are more likely to remember to water them.

 5. Stand Pots in saucers, they won’t dry out so quickly. Plastic saucers are as cheap as chips at garden centres and DIY stores.

 6. Don’t worry too much about lawns, they will green up again in the autumn so concentrate on your pots and flower beds if you are on a water meter. Unless it is newly laid turf in which case you will need to water it regularly until it’s established.

 7. Water the base of the plants, not the foliage – This way the water goes straight to the soil where it’s needed. It helps to make a puddle around each plant.

 8. Choose plants that tolerate dry conditions;

 Dry and Sunny-

Perennials

 Generally, plants with a tough, silvery leaf such as Cistus, lavender, lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), Russian sage (Perovskia), Dianthus, Phlomis, rosemary and thyme will all do well in the sun and many will give the added bonus of a fabulous scent. Many originate from the Mediterranean and they are used to basking in the sun. Other plants that will do well are Iris germanica, Alliums, thrift, Coreopsis, Agapanthus and Gaillardia.

Bedding Plants

Geraniums and Osteospernums and Petunias are the most draught tolerant of the summer bedding plants.

 Dry and Shady -

Bit more tricky. But it is not impossible to overcome. Top of the list is the Epimedium rubrum, a great little plant with a pinky purple flower, and then there is Mahonia aquifolium or Oregon Grape which is an evergreen shrub with fragrant yellow flowers in late spring.  Periwinkles (Vinca), elephant’s ears, liriope and butcher’s broom (Ruscus) will also do O.K. For foliage colour go for the many euonymus varieties such as ‘Emerald and Gold’ or ‘Silver Queen’ or try the Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Album’ which has a great white flower and will do well in dry shade.

 9. To try to reduce the need for watering in the first place get the secateurs out and cut back the excess foliage on your perennials, this will keep them bushy and reduce the watering burden.

 10. Keep the weeds down as much as possible as they can be nutrient and moisture robbers, taking away much needed water from your cherished perennials.

 What a challenging time it’s been for us gardeners in the last six months. A punishing arctic winter followed by a hot, dry spring. Fingers crossed we’ll get some rain soon.

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