In the latest of a special series of blogs for us, popular gardening journalist, Kim Stoddart outlines how to use less water and protect your plants during a heatwave…
At the time of writing, the weather forecast is predicting rain and thunderstorms here in my little patch of West Wales. After almost a month of dry weather and soaring temperatures, I’m almost doing a little rain dance so pleased am I. Who’d have thought that I’d be praying for rain in beautiful but often rather wet, West Wales!
That said, the hot weather is set to return soon after and whilst I’ve written about climate change gardening techniques for a good few years now, my skills have been tested to the maximum these past few months as my private water supply has almost run dry in the midst of a prolonged heatwave. Here’s how I’ve been dealing with this, and how you can reduce your watering workload, whilst keeping polytunnel plants happy and healthy during the summer sizzle of 2018.
Water at the right time
The last thing you want to do is waste water, yet if you get the hosepipe out in the middle of the day, I’m afraid that’s what’ll happen, as evaporation of your precious resource will surely occur. Early in the morning or later at night, when it’s cooler is therefore the best time to ensure that your plants are sufficiently quenched.
Water for longer, less often
A surface watering is just that, what you really want is to give your plants (and the ground around them) a proper soaking so the soil can absorb and retain the moisture deeper down. With the other measures outlined, this will enable you to water every couple of days even in the likes of the heatwave we’ve just experienced.
Leave doors/windows open overnight
Even if it cools down dramatically at night-time it’s essential to leave at least some airflow in your polytunnel. This way when the sun rises, it’ll take longer for your tunnel to heat up and it’s less of a stress on your plants all-round.
Compost, compost, compost
To save time watering and help prevent your hungrier plants from suffering, a mulch of compost around their base (and the soil surrounding) will also help to keep water in for longer. It’s incredibly effective for the likes of tomatoes, cucumbers and so forth which have greater demands than other produce. The key when mulching in this way is to water the ground thoroughly first before adding your gardener’s black gold, which then slows down the drying out process. If you have plants in pots then this is also an effective technique, although I would also strongly suggest removing any potted plants outside your tunnel and also adding a layer of weed-supressing membrane over the top, to add further protection from extremes of temperature.
These techniques when employed together really make a massive difference to polytunnel planting, holding water in the ground and reducing the pressure on you to get watering. As in any organic system, it’s all about the soil, so by helping protect your precious loam, your lovely produce becomes much more resilient as a result.
Kim Stoddart is a gardening columnist for Grow Your Own and Country Smallholding magazines. She also writes for the Guardian, edits The Organic Way magazine, and runs polytunnel and growing courses from her training gardens in beautiful West Wales. Kim has partnered with First Tunnels and as such is offering our customers a special 15% discount off all 2018 courses. You can contact Kim on 07796 677178 or via firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more. Or just book before the end of July to qualify. www.greenrocketcourses.com
Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK