Britain is facing another heatwave and our gardens are looking even more frazzled than we are. Our lawns have barely recovered from July’s record-breaking hot spell and now we’re looking at an unusually dry August.
Temperatures are expected to reach 35ºC in some parts of the UK by the end of the week and some areas have already imposed hosepipe bans, with more expected to follow.
So, if your plants are already looking limp and your grass looks more like straw, what can you do?
How to water your garden during a hosepipe ban
During previous hosepipe bans, the use of watering cans and buckets for watering the garden have been permitted – just make sure you double check with your water supplier to see if any additional rules have been put in place.
Using a watering can instead of a hosepipe or sprinkler tends to cut down the amount of water used. Water directly at the base of the plant to avoid waste.
You should also think about utilising recycled water, also known as “grey water”, says Tom Leonard aka Daisy Desire, The Drag Queen Gardener (@dragqueen_gardener).
“Reuse water, wether it’s a washing up bowl or bath water this can all be used to water your stunning plants. Decanting the water into a bucket or bowl is a really simple and easy way to it, especially if you don’t have a water can to hand,” Leonard tells HuffPost UK.
“As long as the water doesn’t contain bleach or a strong chemical cleaning product, you’ll be fine to give the garden a good drink once the water has cooled down. That being said, I speak from experience when I say maybe also consider purchasing a water butt to collect the rain water long term. You don’t have to burst the bank – there is always someone selling a second hand on cheap or I even got my free as someone was putting in their skip!”
Some water companies also allow you to use hosepipes for pot plants. South East Water, for example, says plants in an outdoor pot or within a greenhouse count as exemptions. Again, check with your supplier.
The best way to water plants during a heatwave
It’s best to water plants before or after the sun has hit its peak, according to Chris Bonnett from Gardening Express.
“Watering plants at the hottest point of the day won’t really benefit them. It needs to be done when it’s slightly cooler to give the plants the chance to really soak up the water,” he explains.
“A lot of people also think they need to give plants a lot more water in the heat. This isn’t necessarily true. If anything, you could be damaging your plants further by over watering them.
“Watering once a day when the temperatures are a bit lower is good enough which takes us to the next point.”
Once you’ve watered, use mulch
Soil dries out very quickly in high temperatures, so it’s a good idea to lock in the
moisture once you’ve watered your plants with some mulch. You can buy mulch from garden centres or make your own, utilising bark.
“Bark is a brilliant way to both retain moisture in the soil and help suppress the weeds that are also taking valuable resources from our plants. A good three-inch layer on top of the soil should help,” says Leonard.
“Other organic matters are a great option too, as you’re giving those soil organisms better conditions to thrive in. The soil conditions are often over-looked, but the trick to good gardening is to keep this in a healthy condition to achieve that fabulous harmony in any growing space.”
While healthy soil is a must, Bonnett cautions against using fertiliser during a heatwave.
“A common mistake people make is thinking that plants need fertiliser in hot
conditions to make them stronger,” he says.
“You should actually avoid using fertiliser because when it is applied, it triggers the plant to grow, meaning more nutrients and water is needed. This will be hard to keep up with in hot conditions, the soil will be drying out quicker and your plant won’t really be able to absorb water properly in the heat.”
Create shade over plants that can’t move
Most of us have heard the tip about moving pots to the shade, but that isn’t much good if you’ve got fixed raised beds, borders or a veg patch that can’t move. But Bonnett says there are always ways to create a bit of shade.
“You can use anything from a white bedsheet to maybe an old net curtain,” he says. “Just simply pin or hang it above the area of your plants to protect them from the sun.”
Don’t worry about your lawn too much
It may be impossible to keep grass green if you’re impacted by the hosepipe bans, but there are some steps you can take to limit the damage to your lawn.
Consider using a watering can with a sprinkler head when giving the lawn a drink as you are able to cover a far greater surface area,” says Leonard.
“Mow less! Especially if your lawn begins to turn yellow or brown, allow your lawn to have more shade and grass often will grow a lot slower during hot weather, so give it a little time to catch up with itself.
“Lastly, think about rotating your garden furniture regularly to prevent any possible damage to your lawn.”
And if all that fails, don’t sweat it. As the RHS says: “Lawns are surprisingly drought tolerant, and usually recover well in the autumn rains, even if they have been brown and parched most of the summer.”
Plan some drought-resistant planting for next year
It may be too late now, but choosing plants that are drought-resistant could help your garden look great in future years.
The RHS recommends choosing plants with grey-green or silver leaves as they reflect the sun’s rays, helping to conserve moisture within the plant tissues.
You should also try to choose plants which suit your garden’s soil type and aspect as they will be more tolerant of varying climatic conditions.
Leonard recommends plants like Geums, Sedums, Agapanthus and Lavender for dealing with “rollercoaster” British weather.
Gardener’s World also recommends:
Sea hollies – which have tough, silvery leaves that never suffer in drought.
Hardy geraniums (cranesbills) – low maintenance perennials.
Trachelospermum jasminoides – an evergreen drought-tolerant climber
Verbascums – which have furry leaves that resist water loss.