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watering canLike humans, plants wilt and even­tu­ally die without water. They’re amaz­ingly adap­ted to a vari­ety of mois­ture levels, but we demand so much of our edible garden that it’s not sur­pris­ing we have to inter­vene and irrig­ate if we want a bump­er crop. More isn’t always bet­ter, though, and enough is often less than we think. Here are some ideas to help you get the best from the water in your garden.

Improve your soil

Add com­post if you want your soil to retain water and rehyd­rate eas­ily when dry. Iron­ic­ally, it helps drain­age too. Much of Wel­ling­ton is blessed with heavy clay soil, ideal for hold­ing onto both water and nutri­ents. How­ever, once this soil has dried out it forms a sol­id crust, which can be dif­fi­cult for water to pen­et­rate. In con­trast, light­er sandy soils are prone to dry­ing out quickly and leach­ing sol­uble nutri­ents. Com­post feeds our plants and makes it easi­er for them to devel­op a strong, deep root net­work, whatever the soil type.

Conserve water

Water evap­or­at­ing from the soil’s sur­face isn’t avail­able to our plants. If the soil is kept covered with mulch or plants, it will retain more mois­ture. Plant­ing close togeth­er helps with this. Spread­ing sea­weed, straw, bark chips or even lawn clip­pings between your plants lessens evap­or­a­tion whilst keep­ing soil organ­isms happy and weeds at bay.

Provide wind protection

Every Wel­ling­to­ni­an knows how dehyd­rat­ing it can be out­side on a breezy day. Both plants and soil lose mois­ture in the wind, so keep­ing both sheltered will reduce that dry­ing effect. Leafy plants are prone to wilt­ing on a hot summer’s after­noon, so site them some­where where they get after­noon shade. Newly trans­planted plants will enjoy being sheltered for a week or so while they settle in. Push a large flower pot or buck­et with the bot­tom cut off into the soil around them to act as their own per­son­al wind­break. 

Store what you can

Water col­lec­ted from a house or shed roof is free of both chlor­ine and metered water charges. Loc­ate stor­age as close to your garden as you can. Set up a lid­ded bar­rel or tank with a down­pipe divert­er – you can get nar­row sys­tems that fit along the side of your house. Just make sure you raise them high enough so that you can eas­ily grav­ity-fill a water­ing can. 

Water gently and thoroughly

You can often leave water­ing longer than you think, but then you need to water deeply – allow a couple of 10-litre water­ing cans for each square metre of garden. Poke your fin­ger into the soil to see wheth­er it’s dry about 5cm below the sur­face. If you use a hose and sprink­ler, always use a timer as you’re bound to for­get to turn it off if you go away and leave it. Water with a sea­weed or worm ‘tea’ once a week to give plants a boost.

Time carefully

There are crit­ic­al stages in a plant’s devel­op­ment when water is needed. Ger­min­at­ing seeds need to be con­stantly moist – mist­ing them with a hand-spray­er avoids dis­turb­ing them. Trans­planted seed­lings like to go into moist soil at a cool time of the day. Water­ing stim­u­lates mainly leaf growth, so crops such as lettuce, spin­ach and cel­ery all enjoy a reg­u­lar soak­ing. Fruit crops make best use of water when they are flower­ing and fruit­ing, so water toma­toes, beans, corn and squash well at this stage. The same goes for onions, car­rots and beet­root when their roots are swelling.

Water­ing your garden on a summer’s even­ing is a con­tem­plat­ive and thera­peut­ic activ­ity. It gives you time to inspect, har­vest and tend your crops whilst unwind­ing from the day. For best res­ults, water when it’s cool and the sun has gone down. If it seems like a chore, just remem­ber that you’re only water­ing because we’ve had some fine weath­er to enjoy!

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