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Coping with drought in the garden

Posted: Friday 23 March 2012
by Kate Bradbury

Yesterday was World Water Day, so to celebrate I spent most of the day worrying about the drought.


Close-up of gardener sinking a watering can into a water butt

Yesterday was World Water Day, so to celebrate I spent most of the day worrying about the drought.

I went to the allotment and planted potatoes in parched ground. I wondered why I was bothering – it’s not like I’ll be able to water them much. I dug as deep as I could and added a thick layer of grass clippings and manure to preserve moisture, and emptied the water butt on the tubers to get them going. It was a stark contrast to my weekend spent in Bolton, where my mother-in-law’s lawn squelched with every step.

But World Water Day wasn’t about me, or even the thousands of gardeners and farmers in the UK who will lose their crops this year (none of them in Bolton, I should imagine). It was about water shortages the world over, and the seven billion (and counting) people who rely on it. The campaign was set up in 1993 to encourage us to use less water and waste less food (which contains water and requires a lot of water to produce), and has addressed issues such as sanitation, health, water scarcity and urban population growth.

It’s hard to look at our localised drought and think of the bigger picture, but all this talk of water has got me thinking about everything else that relies on it for survival. I doubt any humans in the UK will die because of this year’s lack of water, but a fair amount of other beings will.

Some ponds in the wild have already dried up, with more likely if the lack of rain persists. This isn’t such a huge problem in the short term, as pond levels fluctuate naturally over the years. But if the dry weather continues, our amphibian and fish populations could decline, not to mention the insects that rely on wetland habitats. If you’ve been thinking of building a garden pond, now’s the time to do it – if only to provide wildlife with an alternative source of water if their local pond dries up. If you’ve already got a pond and it starts to dry out, top it up with rainwater from your water butt.

Hedgehogs coming out of hibernation are also at risk if they don’t find a source of water. Hungry, they urgently need their energy reserves replenishing in time for the breeding season. Leave a dish out for them to drink from, along with some meat-based cat or dog food.

Extremely dry weather will cause plants such as nettles to wither and die. The caterpillars on them will also die, reducing the amount of food available to nesting birds. Make foraging trips easier by providing them with live mealworms and keep your bird bath topped up, so they can clean their feathers. Leave areas of damp mud for nesting house martins, or make them a bespoke papier mache nest. You could use grey water to replenish nectar levels in bee- and butterfly-friendly plants, and pop a stone in your bird bath as a platform for honeybees to drink from.

I’ve been emptying the numerous discarded office plant pots and containers at the allotment, which each had an inch or so of water in the base. The water butt is now a third full, enough to give the potatoes a second drench in a week or so. I’m thinking of moving to Bolton, but in the meantime I’ll just pray for rain.



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oldchippy 23/03/2012 at 21:39

Hi Kate just dug out two dead or dying Ceanothus almost trees
, they were the only plant's left in the borders after the big clear out of 48 tree from front and back gardens when we moved here 10 years ago,it look's like our Cherry is about to break in to flower again it started last November but there seems plenty of buds so the false start hasn't done to much damage.

Oldchippy.

C15.52 29/03/2012 at 18:23

how do i grow jersalem artichokes - in pots or ground for eating as well as flowers

C15.52 29/03/2012 at 18:30

lawn shld i replace with gravel or seek an alternative such as canomile currently lawn is a mixture of moss and wild grass

seanyhayes1 31/03/2012 at 08:33

HI EVERYONE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO I HAD A DROUGHT. BECAUSE I LIVE IN THE NORTH WEST I GOT A LOT OF RAIN BUT THERE WAS A PIPE DOWN THE SIDE OF MY HOUSE THAT HAD CLEAN WATER FROM EVERY TIME SOMEBODY WENT THE TOILET OR HAD A BATH SO I HOOKED A PIPE UP TO IT AND PUT IN ALL IN A WATER BUTT. THIS SOLVED THE PROBLEM OF WATERING 100S OF PLANTS AND 2 TREES

bootsie 05/04/2012 at 19:11

are we allowed to use drip irrigation on our veg?

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