So­phie Thom­son


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Green thumbs

If you wait un­til the hot weather hits to drought proof your gar­den, it could be too late. Here are some steps you can take now

While right now our gar­dens look at their spring best, we of­ten for­get that sum­mer is just around the cor­ner. Usu­ally by the end of Oc­to­ber we have had some days when the tem­per­a­ture gets above 30C and there is a harsh north wind blow­ing. So rather than get to sum­mer and won­der what you can do to help drought proof your gar­den, tak­ing ac­tion now will pay big div­i­dends.

1Im­prove your soil: Although this is prob­a­bly some­thing that should have been done al­ready, un­der­stand that the bet­ter your soil and the more or­ganic mat­ter it con­tains, the more mois­ture it will hold. Or­ganic mat­ter such as com­post or aged an­i­mal ma­nures turns your soil into a sponge and helps wa­ter to stay in the root zone longer.

Some soils, es­pe­cially sandy soils, can be­come wa­ter re­pel­lent and are called “non-wet­ting”. If you have sandy soil and see the wa­ter pool­ing on the sur­face with­out soak­ing in, treat it with an or­ganic-based, biodegrad­able soil wet­ter. Prod­ucts such as Eco-hy­drate work by re­duc­ing the wa­ter re­pel­lency of soils and sig­nif­i­cantly im­prov­ing the util­i­sa­tion of even the small­est amounts of ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter at the root zone.

2Mulching: This is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial in ev­ery gar­den. It con­serves wa­ter by help­ing to pre­vent the soil and plants dry­ing out as rapidly, and it acts as in­su­la­tion for the soil and the roots of our plants, giv­ing them pro­tec­tion from the harsh­ness of our sum­mer sun.

A 5-10cm layer of coarse mulch can re­duce evap­o­ra­tion, and con­se­quently wa­ter­ing, by up to 70 per cent. It also helps re­duce weed seed ger­mi­na­tion and to smother ex­ist­ing weeds. These weeds com­pete with our plants for wa­ter, as well as nu­tri­ents, space and light. It is best to use lo­cally pro­duced or­ganic mulches, such as pea straw, coarse com­post or bark mulch, as this will add fur­ther or­ganic mat­ter to the soil as it breaks down, thereby in­creas­ing wa­ter-hold­ing ca­pac­ity.

3Keep your gar­den well-nour­ished: Us­ing or­ganic-based fer­tilis­ers once a sea­son not only feeds the plants, it nour­ishes and im­proves the soil by adding vi­tal nu­tri­ents and or­ganic mat­ter, im­prov­ing soil struc­ture and drainage and en­cour­ag­ing earth­worm and soil mi­cro­bial ac­tiv­ity.

These fac­tors are vi­tal to main­tain­ing op­ti­mal plant health, which in turn has the ef­fect of re­duc­ing plant pest and dis­ease prob­lems.

They also re­sult in an in­crease in plant root growth, which im­proves the plants’ abil­ity to draw mois­ture and nu­tri­ents from the soil in the sum­mer. Plants and lawns will then be hap­pier, health­ier and bet­ter able to with­stand the stresses due to heat and lim­ited wa­ter.

4Turn to the sea: Use sea­weed-based plant ton­ics on all new plant­ings or plants that are per­form­ing poorly. These prod­ucts pro­mote plant health and root growth, as well as strength­en­ing cell walls, thus im­prov­ing the plants’ re­sis­tance to heat and drought-stress.

5 Wa­ter ef­fi­ciently This can re­duce your wa­ter us­age in the gar­den by up to 75 per cent. Most im­por­tantly, only wa­ter your gar­den when it needs it – scrape back the mulch and feel the soil, and do not wa­ter if it feels damp. Many gar­den­ers over-wa­ter their gar­dens, while other peo­ple wa­ter too of­ten but not for long enough, en­cour­ag­ing shal­low root­ing and thirsty plants. Plants in the gar­den pre­fer a good, deep soak­ing, less of­ten.

In most heavy-to-loamy soils, where the above prin­ci­ples have been fol­lowed, wa­ter­ing well, once a week to ev­ery 10-14 days, is suf­fi­cient. Sandy soils may re­quire more fre­quent wa­ter­ing, but as dis­cussed ear­lier, the ad­di­tion of or­ganic mat­ter and soil wet­ters will im­prove this.

This en­cour­ages plant har­di­ness and deep roots, mak­ing gar­dens and lawns more wa­ter­wise.

To see how ef­fec­tive your cur­rent wa­ter­ing pro­gram is, dig down 30cm af­ter wa­ter­ing and see how far the wa­ter has pen­e­trated.

Wa­ter­ing early in the morn­ing or dur­ing the evening min­imises evap­o­ra­tion, and don’t wa­ter if it is very windy. If you are hand wa­ter­ing, don’t “fairy wa­ter” the fo­liage; wa­ter the root zone, slow and low.

De­vel­op­ing good wa­ter­ing prac­tices in spring trains your plants well, and means that you can tran­si­tion well into sum­mer, whereas if you have been su­per­fi­cially sur­face wa­ter­ing, your plants will be used to a lit­tle bit and of­ten, stress­ing when it gets hot.

Pot plants need more fre­quent wa­ter­ing than those in the ground, and de­pend­ing on the plant va­ri­ety, size of pot and sit­u­a­tion, of­ten re­quire daily wa­ter­ing.

Us­ing mulch and a soil wet­ter will be ben­e­fi­cial.

Next week I will look at what else you can do to pre­pare for sum­mer

To find out where I am giv­ing gar­den talks, visit so­phies­ or fol­low me on In­sta­gram @so­phies­patch or Face­book So­phie Thom­son (pub­lic fig­ure)

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