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Watering in drought conditions

Date posted: Sunday 1st July 2018

Plotholders will have their own strategy for dealing with drought conditions but target watering, heavy mulching and water harvesting from shed roofs are all worth considering.

Your plants probably need less water than you think. Watering little and often does not help, as the water does not penetrate deep into the ground and encourages plants to develop roots near the soil’s surface. One good soak every 10 days is better than a daily sprinkle. You can find out if you need to water by digging a hole a spade’s depth in the soil and examining the soil: only water if the soil feels dry to the touch.

Advice from The National Allotment Society

Where possible every gardener should have water butts to harvest any rain that does fall. If you do decide to water your allotment, the best time of day is during the cool of the morning or evening. Water the roots of the plant and concentrate the watering to once or twice a week, as opposed to giving your plants frequent light showers, otherwise you’ll encourage the roots of the plant to seek water near the surface of the soil, as opposed to deep down in the earth.


Ensuring that your soil is always covered with a layer of mulch will help to retain moisture and suppress weeds; the mulch could be garden compost, composted manure, leaf- mould or a geo-textile etc.

Planting out

When planting out your young plants it is always recommended that you water the hole or trench very well, before putting in your seedlings. This means the root system of your young plant will have instant access to water, also encouraging them to grow downwards to seek new water supplies, as opposed to waiting for you to come along with a watering can. Once the plant is well established, reduce or cease watering all together depending on the plant.

Good plants to choose for dry conditions

When choosing plants for your allotment it is a good idea to go for those that originate in a hot climate and so have evolved not needing very much water, or ones where the edible part of the plant grows below the soil – meaning its roots (and the crops) all benefit from deep water. For example
• Carrots – never water, it will lower the yield
• Potatoes – water only when the flowers have just opened, but otherwise there should be enough moisture in the soil to sustain the plants
• Parsnips – watering doesn’t benefit the crop
• Jerusalem artichoke – never water, otherwise you encourage the formation of leaves and not tubers
• Rosemary and Thyme – woody herbs which can withstand dry seasons
• Beetroot – don’t over water as this will increase leaf size not root size, but don’t allow the soil to dry out completely
• Brussels sprouts – established plants will only require watering during exceptionally dry weather
• Kohlrabi – the root system of this is plant is well developed for sourcing water and so can withstand very dry seasons
• Onions – after the plant has been established, they require little watering and never after mid-July as this will delay ripening
There are some plants that survive very well during wet weather and as such require a lot of watering during a drought. Therefore it is best to avoid the following – celery, courgettes, marrows, pumpkins, squash, rhubarb and spinach.

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