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Is your garden ready for a drought?

drought threat

It might not be the case everywhere, but in many parts of the country it seems we could be heading for a drought. So how can you make sure your garden doesn’t suffer?

Summer in the UK normally consists of several weeks of heavy rain in June followed by three fine days and a thunderstorm.

But, after the driest winter for around 20 years (make that more than 50 years in Wales and Scotland) and one of the driest springs for decades, we’re being warned that if it carries on like this, water companies might have to introduce restrictions.

If that happens, our gardens could start to struggle.

Those of us in the South East are already being asked to be careful with water use. And things like washing the car and watering plants are normally one of the first things we’re asked to cut back on.

Apparently, on average, the water we use in the garden makes up about 6% of our daily use, but on hot days, this can soar to 70%. And if you use a sprinkler, you could be using as much water in an hour as a family of six does in one day!

So if you can’t set the sprinkler on the lawn or train the hose on your beloved (and expensive) plants, what can you do to keep them alive?

Collect rainwater

If you’re really serious about reusing rainwater in the long term, consider installing a rainwater-harvesting tank. These can be situated underground or above ground, and the collected rainwater is supplied via a pump, which gives good pressure for your hose.

However, it’s much cheaper to use a water butt. These are best set up in the autumn so they fill up over winter, but it’s never too late.

Get the largest water butt that will fit the space you have, sit it on a stand so you can access the tap, and attach it to the down-pipe from your house guttering, your shed or your greenhouse.

Heavy summer showers may not be ideal for soaking the soil because the water soon evaporates, but they’ll fill your water butt soon enough. This water can be used on all your plants and you could always have more than one butt if you’ve got room.

Reuse water

‘Grey water’ from your bath, shower or washing-up can also be used on all your plants. Don’t use dishwasher water, though, as dishwasher salt can harm plants.

Use stored water wisely

Let the lawn go yellow. It doesn’t look attractive, but the types of grasses we use in the UK naturally go dormant during hot, dry weather and regrow again as soon as the rain returns.

Many established plants should cope with a certain amount of dry weather, so don’t water shrubs or perennials you’ve had for years unless they start wilting.

Keep your stored water for pots, hanging baskets and anything newly planted that hasn’t had time to establish a good root system.

Even if hose pipes are banned you can still water plants with a watering can. Soak individual plants that really need the water, rather than sprinkling small amounts over a larger area. And always water in the evening or early morning so it doesn’t just evaporate in the sun.

Have you found other ways to keep your plants alive during dry spells? Or do you just let the garden take its chances? Do you have any good ideas for storing water?


We have long pipe runs in our house, which means that it takes a while for hot water for washing up to come through. We have three freestanding water butts outside that we put the cold run-off water into before filling the bowl with hot water. A couple of litres or so each time (that we, of course, pay for!) soon amounts to a good saving and addition to our resources for the garden and other miscellaneous water uses.

My wife and I shower in our bath and we put the plug in to save the water for the garden. However, decanting the bath into about 3 or 4 bucketfuls and then carrying it downstairs caused a touch of back trouble. We looked at pumps and found them too large – more for buildings or clearing ditches, so we went to our local aquarium suppliers and there found a small mains driven submersible aquarium pump (Hozelock Cascade, 450LPH) for £30. It is very compact, only 80x50x60 mm. The 20 metres of 16mm hose to get it out of the bedroom window cost another £30! But it works a treat. Once the pump has primed the pipe, it can be switched off and the water continues to flow by the siphon effect as the pump rotor freewheels and does not restrict the flow. When nor in use we stash the whole lot, hose attached, rather untidily in the spare bedroom but when the drought finishes we will coil it up and store in the shed.

At my previous home I had a water butt raised off the ground and a hose connected near the base. It was sufficient for my small vegetable plot and if there was enough water I also used it to water the borders.

My present garden is mainly shrubs and does not need as much watering, though I must improve the soil which is too well drained. I lost a several plants when on holiday last year.

My two water butts were nearly empty but the recent rain filled them up over two days. At present I just use a watering can or bucket but might add a pump at some stage. I was delighted to find that my new pressure washer would work from a water butt, which its predecessors (same make) would not. I live in a hard water area and if I wash the car with tap water the windows are left streaky, whereas rainwater is soft. The rainwater overflows from one water butt into the second, which means that the leaves etc from the gutters stay in the first butt, reducing the risk of blocking the filter on pressure washer or a pump.

Water meters should be mandatory in all homes. Then people might stop wasting water and make them think twice about leaving sprinklers on, using hose pipes to wash cars, filling giant paddling pools. etc. The result would be much lower total demand for water.

Established plants do not need to be watered; best to let their roots go down to find it. And lawns certainly don’t need sprinklers – they waste a lot of water, induce roots to develop near the surface and make matters worse; the grass will recover – and won’t need so much cutting. New plants will need watering until they become established; give them a big drink, rather than small ones too often. If things get really bad, plant cacti 🙁 .

Succulents such as sedum can be great ground cover and tough as old boots. And very kind to the skin compared to cacti.

“Sedum (SEE-dum) (Stonecrop) hardy succulents are typically low, spreading plants often used as ground covers, on roofs, for rock gardens, or in containers mixed with other succulents. Leaves can best be described as small and fleshy. Colors range from bright green to bright pink to silver and blue.”