Four Ways to Protect Plants from Drought

© Geoff Wakeling 2012Blissful and refreshing rain has arrived in London today, quenching the ground and offering that vital life-force towards plants which have begun to thrive after the recent warm spell.  It’s St. Patrick’s Day and wet but as one friend stated, it means only one thing; wet, Irish rugby players!

There’s nothing quite like opening the back-door to the wet skies on a warm day and letting the gentle drizzle freshen the home and wash away the grime. Particularly in a cityscape, you really get the sense that the rain manages to wash away the pollutants, dust and stifling grubbiness of surroundings, allowing everything to be fresh and new. But, with drought ahead, it’s important to recognise that this rain is not likely to be a regular occurrence in 2012, and so it’s important to take steps to protect plants and crops when water wells start to run dry.

Certainly in the south-east of England, they’re already discussing hosepipe bans from as early as April 2012. This means that either you abandon watering the garden completely, or you look to labour intensive drenching with a can, running back and forth from the water butt or kitchen as you go. In many ways this is preferable anyway because much of the fine mist provided by hosepipe’s or sprinkler systems evaporates long before it is anywhere near soaking into the soil. So, what to do?

1. Install water-butts

Obviously, one of the best ways to survive a drought is to collect as much rainwater as you can. If you can install water-butts, then your days of running back and forth to the kitchen are over and you can ensure to catch as much rainy liquid as you can on the odd occurrence that the sky plummets down.

2. Water infrequently and hard

If you water your garden only a little, every day, you’ll end up with plants whose roots all lie just under the surface of the soil. This is BAD news, and as a result the slightest touch of drought and lack of watering by you will cause plants to flop and wither. Providing a drenching drink on an infrequent occasion will encourage root systems to develop deeper into the soil as they search for natural water, helping plants to stave off drought effects.

If you want to do a spot of recycling too, you can use plastic bottles to help irrigate plant roots. Simply cut the bottom off a bottle, take the cap off and plunge it upside down into the soil next to your plant. You can water directly into the bottom and the water will escape through the nozzle into the soil where it’s most needed

3. Plant in-situ

If you’re worried about your little seedlings needing constant watering, one way to help them survive the odd day or two without a drink is by sowing them in-situ. This will help plants to acclimatise to their environment as soon as they germinate, rather than being grown in a lovely moist and human controlled environment before being dumped into a relative desert later on in the year. Seedlings WILL still need watering, but they’re more likely to survive dry and hot spells when you’ve forgotten to take a trip down the garden or allotment.

© Geoff Wakeling 20124. Reassess your planting

Plants, plants, plants. Some love a good ‘ol drought. Other…not so much. We are a nation of lawn loving individuals (well, some of you) and love our borders to be lush with life. However, not all of these plants are great in a drought and a birds-eye view of many gardens this year is likely to capture an urban sprawl of brown gardens. There are lots of great plants which are slightly better at surviving dry periods, especially those with silver and grey leaves. Use these to your advantage and replace thirsty foliage with succulents, hebes, lavender or lambs ears. Consider reducing the size of your lawn to increase borders or vege-patches, and if you know of particular plants which have caused troubles during previous drought periods, resign yourself to giving up and trying an alternative.

Whether we like it not, droughts will cause the garden landscape to change and without the uses of hoses or sprinklers, there is no way to provide enough water to all flowers and foliage. Nor is the an ecologically sound or economical route to take. So, instead of ignoring the drought and trying to plough on regardless, take a few steps to reduce your water requirements whilst letting your outdoor retreat flourish.

4 Responses to Four Ways to Protect Plants from Drought

  • Here in my little plot of the world I’m hoping for a dry spring and summer; the water table under my garden is so high that I won’t ever need to water anything except when planting and sowing, and less rain = more gardening time for me.

    Mind you, we all have to adapt to our circumstances, and I think that choosing the right plants for your particular circumstances is key in having an environmentally sound garden. In many ways I think it would be good if we introduced a year-round hosepipe ban here in Denmark, at least, since much of our water is pumped up from a very much dwindling supply of ground water. Naturally, this is less of a concern in areas where surface water is used and the reservoirs are topped up more quickly.

    You did miss one other thing that can at least help mitigate the effects of a drought; soil improvement! Rich soil will retain more moisture for longer, and that should at least help the less drought-resistant plants a little. As should ground cover to eliminate evaporation from the ground.

    • You’re lucky!! Actually, I have a similar thing with my allotment. It’s at the bottom of a hill and whilst it can be a little shady, it often fares far better in drier weather than my friends who have plots at the top of the hill.

      And yes, mulching and soil enrichment are MUST-DOs to help with water retention 😀

  • Jules says:

    Great post Geoff. Harvesting rainwater is something that everyone who gardens should be doing – rainwater has a more suitable pH for plants than tap water anyway. I definitely think that plant choice will become a bigger factor in adapting to dry conditions if the drought conditions are prolonged.

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I'm Geoff, and I'm a plant hoarder.

Like magpies collect bright shiny things, I can't resist plants. An exquisite flower, soft ferny foliage or a beautiful majestic tree - I love them all!

Here, I'll indulge in all things flora and share my passion. Join me as I develop my garden and hoard more plants without apology.