Watering tactic gets results in the garden

Watering tactic gets results in the garden

Life & Style
Echevarias, gaillardias and Salvia 'Hot Lips' are watered from sunken flower pots in Peter and Pat Varman's Bathurst garden.

Echevarias, gaillardias and Salvia 'Hot Lips' are watered from sunken flower pots in Peter and Pat Varman's Bathurst garden.

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One of the most frustrating things about water in a heatwave is the maddening way it runs off the soil's surface when it rains or when you water the garden.

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There is a Greek inscription over the entrance to the Pump Room at the Roman baths at Bath that roughly translated reads: Water is best. It refers to the health-giving properties of the mineral spa but it's relevant to gardeners too: without water, plants quickly keel over.

One of the most frustrating things about water in a heatwave is the maddening way it runs off the soil's surface when it rains or when you water the garden.

We've all had the experience of rushing out excitedly after a longed-for shower only to discover the soil is still dry and powdery just beneath its surface because as it dehydrates, it becomes water repellent.

Bathurst landscape gardener Peter Varman realised that the biggest problem with hand watering a garden was getting the water to where it was actually needed, the plants' roots.

Making the problem worse was the limited amount of water available during droughts. His town's water restrictions allow watering twice a week between 6 and 9pm, for a maximum 30 minutes using a hand-held hose. All sprinklers are forbidden.

Unless the local catchment receives good rain soon, restrictions will be increased to buckets only, no hoses. Despite recent deluges on the NSW coast, many inland towns are facing a similar situation.

After several years of drought, Peter knew it was vital to find a way of getting water down into the ground. One way is to remove the base of a plastic bottle and sink it upside down near a plant's stem, then regularly fill it with water.

Peter decided that plastic plant pots, minimum diameter 150 millimetre, with wide, perforated bases were more effective than bottles.

After burying them he leaves two centimetres above ground level so the earth doesn't run into them. When he fills a pot with water, it drains slowly through the perforations and gets directly to the plant roots.

One of the most frustrating things about water in a heatwave is the maddening way it runs off the soil's surface when it rains or when you water the garden. - Fiona Ogilvie

If you're short of old plastic pots, perforated 80mm polyethylene irrigation pipe cut into 20-centimetre lengths makes a good substitute.

During his twice weekly watering sessions, Peter fills each pot or pipe and lets it drain, before filling it again. The cooler soil below ground remains damp for several days.

When irrigating trees, Peter uses three or four pots depending on the tree's size and sinks them well away from the trunk, near the dripline of the widest branches.

Using this method encourages roots to grow down rather than near the surface where hot soil can kill them. Pots buried near established plants won't disturb their roots too much, they soon regrow.

Peter also finds that a granular wetting agent (see The Land, January 18) makes the soil less water repellent. In his experience seaweed extract helps plants absorb inorganic constituents from the soil and increases their resistance to drought and stress. All soil surfaces are mulched.

By maximising the potential of a limited quantity of water Peter is maintaining a garden full of colour and interest.

Additionally, he has experienced few losses despite the severe conditions.

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