Ensure your plants don't die of thirst

The heatwave can be a difficult time for gardeners, but Olive Ryan has some tips on when and how to water them
Ensure your plants don't die of thirst

MELLOW YELLOW: The large flowered evening primrose, or Oenothera glazioviana, is a biennial, flowering in the second year. See Plant of the Week

THE recent dry and sunny weather has been a welcome turn of events this summer.

It does have consequences for our gardens, particularly when prolonged. Watering becomes an issue, especially for newly planted trees and shrubs in the garden.

The value of incorporating plenty of organic matter into the soil over winter and spring cannot be over-stated during these dry, sunny periods. It builds up a reserve in the soil structure that helps conserve water and store it more effectively, making plants less dependent on us gardeners to quench their thirst.

If you are not in the habit of adding organic matter — which can take many forms, homemade compost, farmyard manure, spent mushroom compost or leaf mould are some examples — now might be the time to change this as by far the simplest one to acquire is homemade compost.

Now is a really good time to start making your own compost as some plants need pruning and cutting back to encourage a second flush of flowers later in the summer.

All of this plant material can be piled together to make a compost heap where it will break down really quickly during the summertime as the temperatures are high.

Grass clippings from the lawn can also be added and all of this management and recycling of our own waste in-house helps to reduce the unnecessary movement of waste and it is broken down on-site.

Garden compost needs to get to temperatures of over 63C for more than a month to completely kill seedlings and generally, the larger the compost heap, the more heat it will generate. Hedge clippings, shrub prunings, young weeds, tomato prunings, spent lettuce plants, and dead headed flowers can all be added to the heap — do not add too much woody stuff as it takes much longer to break down.

It can be a good idea to have a layer of brashy branches at the bottom to allow air into the bottom of the heap. Any woody material that does not break down can simply be returned to the new heap next year when spreading the compost in spring.

Watering our gardens will certainly become more of an issue in future years as the effects of global warming begin to materialise and we need to consider carefully our use of this valuable resource in an effort to minimize needless waste of water.

During periods of drought, consider using a dish of used soapy water to water plants instead of pouring it down the sink. Watering plants early in the morning or late in the evening is a more effective use of water as less is subject to evaporation and more will make it to the roots of plants and be absorbed.

Applying water directly to the roots will also result in better uptake by the plant than watering the foliage, which may result in some scorching of the leaves if the temperatures get very high during the daytime.

Giving the roots of plants a good drench two or three times per week is much better than giving them a little splash each day as this teases their roots up to the surface of the soil.

A good soaking will have the effect of taking their roots downwards to follow the water.

Choosing plants that can tolerate drought is going to be the ultimate solution as we look to alpine plants and those native to drier climates. Sedums, Verbascums, Nepeta, Geraniums, Geums and Erygnium all fit the bill and these types of plants need to be considered when planning new areas as they will be more sustainable garden plants for the future.

Self-seeders can be controversial in the garden and many inspire a love/hate relationship towards a particular plant. It is interesting that we tend to have less regard for plants that propagate themselves with ease and we crave plants that can be difficult to grow!

Prolific self-seeders, it is true, can become a bit of a nuisance, a simple solution is to cut them back before they set seed to avoid large populations appearing the following year — maybe that’s easier said than done sometimes!

Some of my favourite self-seeders in the garden are foxgloves, lady’s mantle, verbascum, evening primrose, opium poppy, honesty, echiums, california poppy, cow parsley and borage. Lady’s mantle is a bit of a thug when it comes to self-seeding but does make a wonderful cut flower, producing billowing plumes of lime green foliage in early summer, and there you have it, once a plant serves a useful purpose, its value increases.

Cutting back lady’s mantle when the flowers start to go over can encourage a second, less voluminous flush of flower later in the summer.

There are so many self-seeding plants when you start to look around the garden and take stock! It is also an added bonus of making your own compost that some unplanned pops of colour appear in borders where compost is applied (of course, the disadvantage is that some weed seedlings may make it through the composting process also).

Self-seeded plants more often than not get off to a great start, getting their roots established deep into the soil, unlike transplants grown in seed trays or modules which are planted out once big enough.

Love them or hate them, enjoy your self-seeders this summer!

Plant of the week

It had to be a self-seeder that is bringing a lot of sunshine to the garden right now. The large flowered evening primrose, or Oenothera glazioviana, is a biennial, flowering in the second year, producing large bright yellow blooms emerging from red flower buds which the honeybees and bumble bees frequent for food.

They adore full sun and a well- drained sandy soil. They can get to about 1.5m in height and have a narrow erect growth habit, ideal for the middle of a border.

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