How to make sure your garden isn’t dealt a knockout blow
It may be a bit grey outside, but there hasn’t been much rain lately, and with the warmer weather to return next week, now is the time to ensure your plants get all the water they need. Lack of rainfall can drastically reduce crop yield for vegetable and soft fruit growers.
And while it may be simplistic to think that a watering can and a hosepipe will cure everything, that’s just a fraction of the solution.
In fact, the first line of defence against any summer drought should be drawn at the ground preparation stage, where digging in two bucketfulls of well-rotted manure per square metre will add to the water-retaining capacity of the soil. That could add as much as two weeks’ moisture, as well as vital nutrients.
Sowing early, preferably before May, will also allow crops to take root in moist soil and be prepared for when more severe conditions arrive - generally in late June – and drought stress becomes a real issue.
This is applicable to vegetables such as carrots, those that stay in the ground until ready to use. But it is less useful for the likes of spinach and salads where a continuity of supply is needed and later sowings, typically after May, might have to be made in dry soil.
Here it is better to water into your drill before sowing to ensure good germination.
Spacing plants more widely, usually by more than 50per cent of the recommended distance, allows each plant a greater area of soil to compete for moisture. Although this reduces the yield, it does mean they become drought resistant.
The key to keeping moisture in the ground and around the roots is a good quality mulch.
Raked leaves, compost, composted manure, dried grass trimmings, even bark chippings, can all be used to protect young trees and berry plants from summer stress and will create cooler micro-environments at the base of plants. However, anything that has not been aged will temporarily deplete the soil of nitrogen and hamper growth.
The key is, if in doubt, give your plants a good water when they start to look limp and lifeless and their leaves sag.