The weather over the past couple of months makes watering a hot topic. Last year when we addressed watering, our advice, coupled with the subsequent start of the school holidays triggered a couple of months of rainfall; maybe we can do the same this year.
The most important thing to remember is that water is required at the roots of plants. Dry soil surfaces do not necessarily mean that it is dry where it matters, probe deeper to see what the soil is like lower down. The condition of the plants themselves will indicate whether or not they have enough water. Indeed, a dry surface can be quite helpful, if there is moisture below as it will help to prevent evaporation from the lower soil levels. An added bonus is that a dry surface helps to stop annual and ephemeral weeds germinating.
When watering think about priorities. Trees and shrubs planted within the last year or so may well need additional water; if you didn’t have a watering tube put in at the time of planting, then try sinking a flower pot into the soil close to the plant. Filling this will direct water down and help to avoid evaporation losses.
Many vegetables are annuals and are generally grown quickly to produce a crop, so are thirsty. This is especially case for the cucurbit family, but again using a sunken flower pot as a watering mechanism can make watering easy and efficient. The squashes shown below are only being watered once a fortnight, albeit with a full 10 litre watering can per plant each time and they are healthy and setting fruit. The weed suppressant membrane is also acting as a mulch; helping to preserve the moisture levels below ground and this leads on to the next point.
Mulching is an excellent way to stop evaporation, but needs to be done when there is plenty of water already in the ground (early spring is a pretty good time to seal in winter rain). Using a bulky organic mulch such as well rotted manure or garden compost will also help to improve soil structure, so it gives a double benefit.
In the flower garden; taking semi-ripe cuttings from your favourite Osteospermums and Pelargoniums and over-wintering the young plants in a frost free space will give you summer bedding for next year.
With the warm soil it is now an excellent time to apply vine weevil nematodes to pots and borders if you suffer from this pest.
Another pest that is prevalent at this time of year is saw fly and stripped rose leaves are a clear indicator of the presence of this pest, use your preferred method of control if the plants are suffering.
Watering tends to help to leach out nutrients, so for summer flowers, a high potassium feed (e.g. tomato food) along with regular dead-heading, will help to keep flowering plants productive. Of course you can also use the same feed for tomatoes and while the dry weather may be making hard work for gardeners, the high levels of light over the past few months are really helping plants to grow and fruit like tomatoes to ripen. We’re now picking tomatoes every other day and the ripening conditions have meant that they are full of flavour.
While in the vegetable garden, you can be looking ahead and sowing spring cabbages for next year.