We are reliably told by weather forecasters that the summer of 2012 will be droughty, unless we receive massive rains to fill up the depleted reservoirs across south east Britain A hosepipe ban is almost certain, but what else can drought struck garden enthusiasts do? Unfortunately, the prospect of a series of droughty summers in the South East is looming as climate changes over the century, so this article is about the future for several years to come
You must seriously consider whether to keep your lawn. Lawns require a large amount of water, so it may be that you will need to adopt a different garden lay out. Note that lawns are not common in Mediterranean regions, where patios with potted plants are the norm. In parts of south east Britain lawns may become unsustainable over the next century, unless the climate radically changes to the wetter, which is unlikely .Potted plants enable water to be focused more narrowly where it is needed.
Flower beds and pots may need to be mulched. A mulch is a covering for the ground. It may be a plastic sheet with holes cut for plants. It might be compost, woodchip or stone etc. Whatever it is, a mulch will preserve water in the ground, however a stone mulch will prevent you getting compost and manure into your soil, resulting in loss of essential humus. Woodchip or bark make fine mulches,as they allow rainwater to trickle through and will decompose to allow the soil to be refreshed. A moist mulch, such as seaweed or manure, will not only retain water in the soil but provide water to it. Compost is good for water retention, so apply it liberally as a mulch across your soil. Leaf mould also serves a similar function, as it improves soil structure, which enables the soil to retain water more effectively. Potted plants can be easily mulched with woodchip or bark.
More careful watering will be the norm. Forget the hose or sprinkler, which will be banned and become a thing of the past in certain areas. Water your plants at cooler times of the day to prevent evaporation from the surface and allow the water time to be absorbed into the soil. When using a watering can, do not spray water all around, but target it at the base of the plant. Doing this waters the plant and deprives weeds of water, so it is an effective means of weed control as well as a means of watering. .
Have a water butt. This can be linked to a gutter so that rain water can be used. On an allotment a water butt is essential. I have small containers [old plastic pots that contained chicken manure pellets] next to each bed so that rain water can be collected all over the allotment, but ensure that you use this water quickly, as small containers can easily lose all their water by evaporation. Be more careful with your watering. It is possible to over water plants, wasting water in the process. You can also save waste tea and coffee, etc in a bottle to use on your soil. Tea contains potassium and the milk in it contains calcium, so it is a useful soil nutrient in small doses.
Choose drought resistant varieties of plants. Shrubs with waxy leaves are naturaly drought resistant, as they retain water effectively. Deep rooting plants can draw water from deeper layers in the soil than shallow rooting plants can.