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Garden in the late afternoon sun

Helping your garden survive the summer heatwave

13 July 2022 | Smart Saving Water

The summer in the UK has finally arrived, after a rather lacklustre May and June.  But the current heatwave may, amongst other things, mean that our lawns may start to take a bit of a hit – and turn from lush green meadows to spiky brown patches of earth. So how can you survive the summer heatwave, tend to your garden AND water during a hosepipe ban?

Water is a precious resource – but it can’t be taken for granted. Climate change, and the more extreme weather that comes with it, means that water supply is becoming more unpredictable than in years gone by.

Spells of hot weather have obviously happened in the past, but heat waves are now longer, more extreme, and more frequent.   The earth’s temperature has risen by 0.08° Celsius per decade since 1880, but the rate of warming since 1981 is more than twice that.

Threats of water shortage and hosepipe bans

With these hot spells comes the threat of water shortage and hosepipe bans across the UK.  An Environment Agency spokesperson recently said: “People should use water wisely. River flows and reservoir levels have receded across central and southwestern England.”

Water companies capture much less rain for our use than people commonly assume, with parts of the UK already subject to water stress. In fact, 12 out of the 23 water companies operating in areas of England are rated as being under ‘serious’ stress.

To make matters more urgent, UK water demand is set to rise in the next few years, so it’s getting even more important to make the most of what we have.

Look after your garden

So what can we do to survive the summer heatwave, conserve water and make sure our gardens do get a little bit of love at the same time?

Use the right water… and recycle!

Using water from a water butt is the most natural way to water the garden.  They simply collect rainwater off your roof and can store up to 200 litres of water. As well as being better for watering your plants, using rainwater in the garden reduces the amount of treated water you use.  Plus, by using a watering can in the garden instead of a sprinkler or a hosepipe saves a huge amount of water. Garden sprinklers and hosepipes left running can use between 500 and 1,000 litres of water an hour which, if you did it for a couple of hours a day during the summer months, could easily double your annual water consumption – so its expensive too.

But did you know that you can also recycle bath and washing up water, once it has cooled?  You can even reuse washing machine water (in fact many modern housing schemes actively re-use this so-called ‘grey’ water).  Soil and potting composts are effective at filtering soap suds and other impurities out  By doing this, you can make sure that you’re not wasting water unnecessarily during a dry spell.  It’s not something that you should do indefinitely, but the use of grey water is helpful in times of water shortages.  Just make sure to wash anything you pick from your garden if you do this!

Water the garden at the correct time of day

During a dry spell, make sure you water your garden either in the evening or first thing in the morning, as the cooler conditions mean less water is lost to evaporation. Watering in the heat of the day is not a good idea as much water is lost through evaporation from the surface of the soil and the plants will use water more efficiently if watered in the cooler parts of the day. Established plants can be self-sufficient throughout a heatwave (for few days) without copious watering.

Put mulch down

The first line of defence against hot weather that can dry surface soil is to apply a liberal layer of mulch around the plants. This protects the soil from direct sun exposure, keeping it moist at the surface. Mulch also reduces evaporation of water from the soil which reduces the need for watering.  It is particularly important to cover any surface roots to stop them form burning and to be extra generous around vegetables which require a lot of water. And don’t forget your pots, too.

Move pots into the shade

It may seem obvious but move your potted plants out of the sun as much as possible. If you don’t have any shady corners or the pots are too big or heavy to move, use shade netting – or even old net curtains – to keep them cool.  Potted plants are often more fragile than they would be if planted in the ground and need a little extra attention. Give them a little plant feed with their watering to help keep them healthy.

Give more attention to…

Recently established plants need the most water to help them grow.  However, just because there’s a heatwave that doesn’t mean you can’t have new plants. However, putting them in when the sun is beating down is probably not going to help them.  A good glug of water and using mulch (see above) is also vital to them doing as well as possible.

Saving water is important across every aspect of our lives

But remember, we need to make a conscious effort to do save water ALL the time across every aspect of our lives, not just when you are trying to survive the summer heatwave and tend to your garden. 

Currently, the average household in the UK uses around 330 litres of water a day, that’s 140 litres per head, every day. This means an average family of four in the UK could use more than 500 litres each day.  However, most of us don’t know we use that much. Recent research shows that 46 per cent of people believe their household uses under 20 litres a day (roughly equivalent to taking a two-minute shower)

The oldest advice is often the best advice

There are many ways that you can save water and get to grips with water consumption around your home.  Some of the oldest advice remains some the best:

  • If possible, take a shower instead of a bath. A five-minute shower uses about 40 litres of water. This is about half the volume of a standard bath.
  • Wait until you have a full load before using your washing machine or your dishwasher. Some new washing machines use less than seven litres of water for each kilo of clothes, while modern dishwashers can us as little as 10 to 15 litres of water a cycle.
  • Turn off the tap when you clean your teeth. A running tap uses up to nine litres of water a minute.
  • Use a bowl in the sink when washing fruit, vegetables of dishes. You can then use the waste water to water your plants.
  • Fill a jug of water and put it in the fridge for when you want a cool drink.
  • If you ave an older loo, use a water-saving device in your toilet cistern. Depending on the size of your cistern, you could save between one and three litres each time you flush the toilet.
  • Check your property regularly for leaks on your internal plumbing.  Leak detection devices such as Sonic from Hero Labs protects property as well as helping to save water and money.   detects water leaks anywhere in the home, shutting off the water supply fast.  By scanning plumbing for problems up to a hundred thousand times a day, Sonic uses technology to detect potential leaks and measure temperatures to avoid frozen pipes so as to help property owners and managers stop problems before they cause real damage or prevent them from happening entirely.

You can survive the summer heatwave by doing just a few things. It all adds up.