Surviving the hosepipe ban: With just a few simple tricks you can stave off the effects of the drought


Two dry winters have left reservoirs and other water supplies severely depleted

Two dry winters have left reservoirs and other water supplies severely depleted

On Friday, millions of households will be hit as a hosepipe ban comes into effect. As a gardener, it's difficult not to panic. But two dry winters have left reservoirs and other water supplies severely depleted.

So seven companies - Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Sutton and East Surrey Water, Veolia Central, Veolia South East and Anglian Water - are bringing in the restrictions, which prevent the use of hosepipes to water gardens, top up ponds and clean patios.

But there are a number watering tricks to keep your plants healthy - and ways to cut down on the amount of water your garden needs.

If you have space, install a water butt to capture any rainfall. This will provide you with a supply of water if tougher restrictions governing the use of mains water are imposed later. These are easy to install to any downpipe of a house - and can even be fitted to gutterless greenhouses and sheds with only a minimal amount of additional pipework. I have a compact 100-litre container in the side passage next to my house but models that can store up to 1,500 litres are available. Those with large gardens can link several with a connecting kit.

Waste water from sinks, baths, showers and washing machines can be used too. There are elaborate systems available for redirecting, filtering and storing 'grey' water but there is no need to go to such expensive lengths. Simply reuse a bowlful of wash-ing-up water or fill watering cans from the bath. However, as it contains detergents, it should be diluted before use and is not suitable for vegetable patches.

With hosepipes outlawed, most gardeners will slake the thirst of plants with a watering can. Water in the cool of the morning or evening, giving your plants plenty of time to soak up moisture away from the midday sun. Drench the soil directly above the roots with several short bursts, allowing the water to soak in each time - this will encourage longer roots that can find moisture deeper underground. Avoid lightly sprinkling, as plants will then produce shallow roots that are more vulnerable to drought.

MARTYN'S GARDEN TIPS

Q How can I stop cats rolling on newly sown beds of seeds or using the bare soil as an alfresco litter tray?

A While the seedlings establish, cover the ground with sheets of netting, or push prickly twigs into the ground at regular intervals. Alternatively, splash out on an ultrasonic cat-deterrent device.

A 5cm layer of mulch helps to lock in moisture, keep plants' roots cool and prevent thirsty weeds. However, do leave a gap around plants. When mulches come into contact with woody stems, they can cause bark to soften, making plants vulnerable to fungal infections. Cover large patches of bare soil in vegetable gardens with woven landscape fabric - small slits can be made in the material when planting.

If you have gaps, fill them with plants that need very little water. Fast-growing Californian poppies, crocosmia, red-hot pokers, bearded iris, salvia, rock rose, echinacea, hemerocallis and oriental poppy are ideal and can be combined with ornamental grasses, fennel and lofty Verbena bonariensis. Lavenders, marguerites, pelargoniums, begonias, delosperma, carnations and African lilies are perfect for pots or hanging baskets this year.

Mix some water-retaining gel into compost before planting - available from garden centres, these crystals absorb moisture, then release it slowly as the compost starts to dry. Grouping pots together, apart from making watering easier, helps to give shade, keeping roots cool. Their close proximity will also raise humidity immediately around them and prevent moisture loss, meaning plants need watering less often.

Keeping lawns in peak condition during a hosepipe ban is difficult. Raise the height of cut on mowers and trim less frequently. Check that blades are sharp - blunt edges rip grass apart, exposing a large surface area and so increasing moisture loss. But don't worry if your lawn starts to look like a hay field for a while. Any damage will be largely superficial and your manicured emerald sward will return when it rains.

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