Gardening July 15
Those of us who are so ancient as to remember the hot summer of 1976 will see certain similarities in our present dry spell. As I recall, it was a miserable spring, then as soon as the Whit Bank Holiday was over, real rain was a thing of the past until August Bank Holiday (what’s new?), when the drought ended in thunderstorms and heavy downpours. The rain then continued, it seemed, for ever.
I had a large garden then in Bourne, on very solid soil, and the cracks in the taupe-coloured lawn filled me with panic. I watered as much as I could until a hosepipe ban came into force, then watched as roses shrivelled and even mature shrubs started to wilt. Some days it was cooler and the clouds threatened rain, but none fell and the temperatures soared skywards again. Sounds familiar?
Once the rain started everything except the sickliest plants recovered, brown lawns greened up in a matter of days and 1976 became a memory.
This time I am much more sanguine about these weeks without rain. On the assumption that it will eventually fall, in the meantime I am practising the tips I learned thirty four (yes, really!) years ago, which I will pass on now to those lucky enough not to remember what I’m on about.
1.Only water really necessary items. Containers and hanging baskets will need regular watering; newly planted things and vegetables on light soil need a good soak from time to time, but mature plants will generally look for their own moisture.
2. Try to save ‘grey water’ from the kitchen sink and wash basin for plants showing signs of stress. Don’t use the water from washing machines and dishwashers which contain chemicals that can be harmful to plants.
3. Don’t worry about the lawn – it will soon recover. It may get more weedy than usual but weeds can be spot treated once it rains. Don’t use fertilisers and weedkillers on very dry lawns. Leave the clippings on.
4. Don’t try to plant in a drought.
5. Mulch round fruit trees to conserve moisture which will swell the fruit, but make sure the soil is moist first.
6. Stop worrying and enjoy the sunshine.
Should I dead-head my bedding plants?
Ideally, yes, because apart from tidying them, they will then produce new flowers instead of seed, although some modern varieties have sterile flowers so are ‘self-cleaning’ and dead-heading isn’t necessary. Dead-heading can be an arduous job if you have a lot of bedding plants – I find it best to get into a routine and do all the plants that need it at regular intervals, say, once a week, otherwise it can become obsessive. Some plants, like antirrhinums, all finish their first flush at the same time, and can be clipped over to produce more flowers.
This piece originally appeared in the Spalding Guardian