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Smarter watering will save you time and money this summer

June and July have been especially hot and dry and have put our gardening skills to the test, writes Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park.

At Clumber, we have had to devote additional hours to watering and have had to prioritise what to water to keep water consumption under control.

Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park

Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park

We try to use water as efficiently as possible, avoiding over-head sprinklers and watering by hand or with a seep hose laid on the soil surface.

The most practical time is to water in the evening when temperatures have started to fall and there is less likelihood of water evaporating from the soil.

Another option is to water in the morning, before the sun’s heat is at its strongest.

A superficial spray to the soil surface or the leaves of the plant is of little use.

Water the soil around the base of the plant.

Feel how wet the soil is with your finger and if the water has only soaked into the surface, water again.

For plants grown in rows, such as vegetables, a seep hose laid alongside the row, provides a steady trickle of water which will soak into the soil.

Any new plantings will need regular watering to keep them alive, so too hanging baskets and plants in containers.

Those in full sun will need daily attention.

Leafy vegetable crops such as lettuce and salad leaves need lots of water, as do developing pea pods and runner and French beans.

Rain water can be collected from the roofs of greenhouses, conservatories and even your house, by installing rain water diverters to down pipes and directing it into water butts.

On light, sandy soils incorporating organic matter, such as well rotted manure, mushroom compost or home-made compost, will help the soil keep hold of it water for longer.

If you’re preparing soil for planting into this autumn, it’s definitely worth considering.

What can help more immediately is a mulch – a layer of material such as bark chippings, gravel or home-made compost – spread over the soil surface, but make sure the soil is moist before you spread the mulch.

Hardy plants from the Mediterranean, southern Africa and California are adapted to withstand hot, dry conditions best.

Lavender, rosemary, cistus, perovskia and ceanothus have all coped at Clumber, so too plants with fleshy, succulent leaves like sedum.

In addition to saving water in the garden the tips above can help you save time, effort and money.

Most of us have a water meter and are charged for every drop that we use.

It’s also better for the environment, as tap water takes energy to produce and to pipe to your garden.

It is now August so sow Japanese onion varieties such as Senshyu Yellow which will over-winter and help fill the ‘onion gap’, in late June or early July after the onions in store have been used up, but before the main crop onions are ready.

Keep dead-heading faded flowers and trim beech, yew and Leyland cypress hedges.

Propagate tender perennials such as penstemons, fuchsias, pelargoniums and osteospermums.