Clumber Gardener: Sensible watering saves you time and money

Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park
Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park

Late May and early June are the big planting out weeks, when tender and half hardy bedding and container plants – begonias, pelargoniums, salvias and the like – and vegetables such as sweet corn,courgettes and tomatoes, can be planted outside after the danger of a late frost is over.

As daylight length has almost peaked (the longest day is June 21) and temperatures are on the up, young transplants will be growing apace.

And if the soil is dry and the days sunny, will need regular watering.

This will also apply to newly planted container-grown trees, shrubs and perennials.

Using water sensibly can help reduce time spent watering, save you money if you have a water meter, and it is very green, as tap water takes energy to produce and to pipe to your garden.

It may seem like stating the obvious, but plants take in water through their roots, so any water we give them needs to go to where the roots are, in the soil.

Best practice is to thoroughly soak the soil at the base of the plant, rather than lightly spray water on the soil surface or onto foliage.

Water thoroughly and infrequently, rather than little and often, which encourages rooting just below the soil surface and poor drought resistance.

It also makes sense to water in the early morning or inthe evening, rather than during the hottest part of the day.

Less water is lost through evaporation and it is a lot more comfortable for whoever is doing the watering.

Top tip for sowing seeds outside is to water the base of the drill before sowing your seeds.

Again, the water goes where it is needed – in the soil next to the seeds.

Avoid overhead sprinklers and use seep hose, which consists of a porous pipe which is laid on the soil surface.

Water seeps out gently into the soil and there is little wastage.

If you’re growing plants in rows, in the vegetable garden for example, the water goes precisely where it is needed.

Some seep hose is even made from re-cycled car tyres, which makes for even greener gardening.

Clumber’s soil is very light and sandy, which makes it free draining and not able to hold on to the plant foods in the fertilisers we use.

We add lots of organic matter – our own home-made compost and mushroom compost – and well-rotted manure and leaf mould could also be used.

They all act like a sponge, holding onto soil moisture and plant foods.

The same materials, and bark chippings, could also be used as a mulch.

Summer container plants like petunias and trailing fuchsias look great with regular feeding, dead-heading (removing faded flowers) and watering.

Large containers are easier to water than smaller ones and if they aren’t too heavy, they can be moved into a shadier spot if the weather stays hot and dry.

Mulching the surface of the compost with gravel will help reduce moisture loss, as will lining the insides of porous clay pots with polythene before planting.

Be sure not to block any drainage holes in the pot.

Even in drought, not everything will need watering.

Established trees and shrubs will usually cope and lawns are great survivors and will quickly green up after heavy rainfall.

We are now into June and you need to ventilate your greenhouse in hot weather.

On hot, sunny days water the floor of the greenhouse, a process known as ‘damping down’, to keep the air moist.

This will help reduce problems with red spider mite which thrive in dry air.

Harvest first early varieties of potato. Continue harvesting rhubarb and asparagus, early peas and salad leaves.

Strawberries are usually a target for squirrels and blackbirds.

Cover ripening fruits with netting. Put down straw around the plants to prevent fruits bring splashed with soil.

Watch out for pests and diseases as the mild winter and recent rains will no doubt see lots of slug and snail activity on young vegetable seedlings.

Biennials such as forget-me- nots and wallflowers can be sown outside.

Dig or fork over the soil, rake it level and firm.

Take out a seed drill with the corner of a rake, water the base of the drill, sow the seed and backfill.

Germination usually takes about a fortnight.

Herbaceous perennials are growing apace and need staking, otherwise shoots will be damaged and fall over onto neighbouring plants.