Gardening in a heatwave
Updated: Aug 3, 2022
2022 has seen record temeratures, with multiple weather stations recording in excess of 40 degrees for the first time in UK history. All of this can be bad news for us garden lovers.
Water is a precious resource which is under pressure from climate change and population growth and we are all conscious of being more sustainable, conserving water and using it sensibly.
Sit back with a good mug of tea and read these tips for maintaining your garden and your lawn through really hot summer weather without wasting water.
Let's start with the big one. The lawn is one of the first things to suffer in hot weather and our first thought is to rush for the sprinkler. For many of us its the largest planted area in the garden and it can be worrying when we start to see it turn brown. We can all relax though - there is often no need to water a lawn. Just because it's brown it doesn't mean it has died.
🌱 When a lawn is under heat stress it will slow down growth first (less mowing to do!) and then the leaves will start to turn brown; the plant is conserving energy and water for the roots. 🌱 Most lawns, left to their own devices will spring back to greenness and life in the autumn rain without need for wasting gallons of water on irrigation through the summer.
🌱 You might like to try some aerator shoes whose spikes make holes in the lawn soil as you walk around the garden - then when it does rain or you water the garden, the water will be able to get through the hard soil surface and straight to the roots, and is less likely to run off the surface or evaporate. These recycled plastic ones, below, are from the RHS and cost £14.99. I think I might get some...
🪴 Move pots to a shady area of the garden during really hot spells. This will prevent them drying out so quickly and put less stress on the leaves of delicate plants.
I moved these smaller pots to the north facing side of the garden, and put plastic tubs under them to recycle and conserve water.
🪴 Alternatively you could sink potted plants into the soil so that the roots are cooler and lose less moisture, and when the compost does dry out they can absorb some water from the soil.
🪴 If you have plants in really small pots now is the time to pot them on to something larger - the smaller the pot the quicker it will dry out in hot weather.
🪴 Put plant pot saucers (I use old vegetable tubs for smaller plants, above) underneath pots so that the water that runs out can be reabsorbed - as well as catching rainwater - and it will enhance humidity for the plant too.
If you get the weeding done there will be fewer plants in the ground competing for available water - there's no point wasting water on the weeds.
How to water effectively
It may be that you really need to water your garden, so do it in the best way possible.
💦 If you have to water, do it in the early morning, evening or at night. Whether you're using a watering can or a hose, watering in the cool of the evening is best so that temperatures are lower. This means less water will evaporate, and throughout the night water will be able to seep down into the soil and the plants can absorb it without stress or evaporation. They'll then be more hydrated when the sun shines.
💦 Water directly on the roots of plants, rather than spraying the leaves and flowers as a general rule - this will get the water directly where it needs to be. Watering the leaves of plants can risk them suffering from leaf scorch in hot sun.
💦 A really good soaking once every 7-10 days is better than a light spray every day. Watering too lightly can actually damage your plants, as they water doesn't get deep enough for the roots to keep growing downwards. The danger is the water won't get to the roots, or they'll start growing shallow roots near the surface to find water when you want deep, mature roots. Keep the hose on the base of the plant until you can imagine the water has seeped into the roots inches below the surface - this takes longer than you'd think.
Plant drought tolerant plants
🌞 Planting plants that don't need as much water in the first place is a good start. Mediterranean plants such as lavender and rosemary don't need too much water. Some other good drought tolerant garden plants are Sedum (succulents in general), Bergenia, Euphorbia, Heuchera and Eryngium, along with some grasses such as Panicum, Stipa and Briza.
Other things you can do to prepare for periods of drought in the garden:
- Get a water butt - collecting rainwater through autumn winter and spring means you have a plentiful supply of free water to use on the garden through the summer.
- Install an irrigation system - some irrigation systems are approved for use during hosepipe bans.
If all else fails, sit in a shady bit of garden to conserve your own precious water supply, and sip slowly and thoughtfully on a good mug of tea.