Yes, from the 5th April many of us will have to lock up our hoses and find other ways to make sure our gardens get enough water. You can find further details of who is affected and exactly what they can and can't do at hosepipeban.org.uk - in my area it means I can't use a hose attached to the mains to water any plants, fill or maintain ponds or pools, or wash cars or windows. I can, however, still use watering cans and buckets to my heart's content, and run hosepipes from my own stored rainwater or greywater (bathwater etc.). While this won't affect me at the allotment - we have to haul water in cans there anyway - it'll make watering the home garden much, much more of a chore. At home there are dozens and dozens of pots which dry out quickly, most of my fruiting veg which will need water every day, and several thirsty trees which tend to dry out the surrounding areas. At home, we regularly give the garden a long soaking with a hose during dry periods. And even now, it's been a while since we had any rain at all...
So I've been thinking a lot about how to manage things without use of a hose, and in drought conditions when we're not receiving enough rain, and here are the five main strategies which I think can help us all:
1 – Look after your soil
Soil containing lots of organic matter holds more moisture. Dig compost into your beds (or spread it on top and let the worms do the work for you). Try to avoid growing things in small pots, which dry out very fast. As well as physically holding more moisture, a larger pot (or open ground) allows a plant to spread its roots more.
2 – Grow strong plants
Tiny seedlings are much more susceptible to water shortage than larger plants as they have tiny root systems. Grow seedlings on in ideal conditions until they're strong and healthy before planting out. BUT don't let them get too big either - planting out while they're still small encourages young plants to reach down for water and develop better root systems in the long term. Create depressions around plants, to hold water near to them, and keep weeds down to reduce competition. Water deeply a couple of times a week rather than lightly every day - a light sprinkle doesn't reach deeper roots before it dries out, and encourages your plants to grow only shallow roots. Treat plants monthly with biostimulant seaweed extract, which improves their health. Spike and feed lawns now and they'll be that little bit healthier all summer long (and grass is tough stuff anyway, so if it goes brown don't worry; it'll green up again quickly after a rainy spell).
3 – Minimise evaporation
Water during cool weather, or in early mornings or evenings, to prevent evaporation in the sun. Mulches reduce evaporation drastically and a wide range of materials are effective; try woodchip or bark, straw, stones, leafmould, pine needles, grass cuttings, cardboard - anything that shades the soil. Even a thick layer of compost or manure is a good mulch until it is worked into the soil itself. Minimise evaporation on your lawn simply by letting the grass grow!
4 – Save water
Install water butts if you don’t already have them (or consider more if you do), to make the most of any rain. Think about using greywater too, such as water from your bath, shower, washing-up or cooking - just make sure you use a natural phosphate-free soap, in small amounts, and bear in mind that greywater is not recommended for use on edible crops, and should not be stored as bacteria may build up. You can run a hose from your water butts if you install a pump to provide the needed pressure, but your supply may not last long like this. Instead, consider a drip system using a perforated hosepipe buried in the soil – this radically reduces evaporation and maintains a slow, steady supply of moisture right where it’s needed. Otherwise, water economically at the base of plants, instead of wasting water on bare soil or sending it splashing over foliage. Before watering, push your finger into the soil and check for moisture – even if the surface is dry, the soil may still be damp an inch down, and this is usually enough. Bury upturned plastic bottles with their bases cut off just above soil level, to funnel water right down to plants' roots where it is needed.
5 – Use mycorrhizal fungi
Applied to the roots of a plant, this fungus forms a symbiotic relationship which effectively gives the plant a whole secondary root system, increasing root area by around 70%. The fungus reaches deep into the soil and provides the plant with water and nutrients in exchange for carbon, making the plant more vigorous and drought-resistant for the rest of its life! I haven’t tried this yet but I'm thinking about it - it sounds like an amazing benefit, and it’s all-natural, sustainable and British-grown. This article from Permaculture Magazine shows one man's experiments with using it on potatoes - the treated plant lived much longer without watering, and produced much bigger tubers!
What are you doing to cope with hosepipe bans and water shortages this year?