Blooming Times – Water Wise
by Flo Whitaker
Nothing is more essential to life than water! By collecting rainwater and re-cycling household water, Flo Whitaker tells us how gardeners can help to conserve this precious resource.
If all the water on earth could be poured into a 4 litre container, the amount available for immediate human consumption would only fill a tablespoon. Most of the world’s water is salty or frozen. The global population has now reached 7.6 billion, but there is no more water now than there was when our planet was formed. Water has never been in such demand – we gardeners can help with its conservation.
Plants wilt for many reasons, so don’t automatically reach for the hosepipe if a plant has flopped. Used incorrectly, pest and disease sprays makes foliage shrivel and wilt. An infestation of aphids, slugs or vine weevil grubs will also cause a plant to collapse spectacularly. Perversely, overwatered plants exhibit symptoms similar to under-watered ones. If a potted plant looks unhappy, turn it out of the container and check the soil before you water. Drainage holes in patio pots sometimes get blocked, the compost surface may appear dry, but if you dig down 10cms it may be foul-smelling and wringing wet. Border plants can also become waterlogged. A leaking downpipe that went undetected during winter, slowly turned one of my flowerbeds into a bog.
Rainwater butts are the obvious way to conserve water. In a cottage garden setting, a collection of vintage watering cans arranged around a traditional barrel-shaped water butt is both practical and ornamental. Modern-style rainwater tanks look boringly functional but they’re cleverly designed to be used in awkward spaces where barrels won’t fit. Some can be attached vertically to a wall; their super-slim design means they won’t encroach over a path or driveway. Remember, it’s easy to underestimate the weight of water! Unless you are competent at DIY, (my father reckoned that DIY meant ‘Don’t Involve Yourself’) it’s best to ask a tradesperson to install rainwater tanks, especially if sturdy fixings or changes to guttering and pipework are required. Some household wastewater can be recycled in the garden. Well-established trees and shrubs will tolerate small quantities of detergent; the occasional drench of bath, shower or washing-up water will cause no harm. However, only use clean water on seedlings, young plants or leafy vegetables, (e.g. lettuce, cabbage, spinach) and never use dishwasher water to irrigate plants – it’s far too salty. Houseplants love the pure, room temperature water from dehumidifiers and (cooled!) excess boiled water from a kettle.
Summer-planted containers usually require daily watering. For border plants, watering little and often is not advisable as this will only dampen the soil surface. Roots, sensing the moisture, will migrate upwards into the hotter top layer of soil, making them vulnerable to drought. Better to generously water fortnightly – the water will soak down to the roots where it will do real good.