Tomatoes growing outdoors.
GARDENINGHOW quickly we forget when the weather goes on its merry rollercoaster ride.
Give us a barbecue weekend and memories of those horrible chill nights and blustery, wet days, which blighted April and much of May, are consigned to the memory’s recycle bin.
A week without rain makes all containers and many gardens bone dry and, while on the Island we don’t have one, many other areas continue to have hosepipe bans in place.
It is a reminder the overall trend is things continue to get drier, despite the spring blip.
This year, six weeks of deluge in no way makes up for the preceding months of drought and techniques to save water are being constantly updated. It is always sensible to plant with dry soils in mind these days.
The water-holding capacity of ordinary composts and garden soil can be increased amazingly easily by adding Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Gel.
These granules can absorb up to 150 times their own weight in water, releasing it to plant roots whenever it is needed.
All you need is a couple of teaspoons for either ten litres of compost or a square foot of garden soil. It really does make a difference, especially to soils lacking organic matter.
The same company markets a moisture-control compost which can, to some extent, be replicated by the home composter. All that is needed is plenty of organic matter.
The company uses Aquacoir — coconut fibre to you and me — which absorbs twice as much water as ordinary multi-purpose compost and contains enough nutrients to feed plants for up to six months.
For super-strength feeding power, you can add Osmocote controlled-release plant food granules — they contain a balanced feed that will slowly release nutrients to the roots.
But there are a few tips on the traditional way to plant out, which should not be forgotten, to make the most of every drop of water to hand.
Water the plants in trays or pots before planting.
Thoroughly wet the root ball of all plants before planting and leave them to drain.
I usually use an old tea tray or washing-up bowl with an inch of water, leaving the pots in it overnight before planting out.
Improve the water-holding capacity of your soil.
That means providing organic matter at root level, which is capable of holding more moisture than ordinary garden soil. Dig in a handful or two into the bottom of the planting hole and then water. Adding blood, fish and bone adds slow release plant 'fuel’ too.
Plant at the right depth.
Carefully remove the root ball from your tray or individual pot and place at the correct depth in the planting hole. Use more compost to improve the soil around the root ball and then build a circular wall of soil to hold water immediately over the root area without any running away and being wasted.
Water and feed moderately.
Water the new plant into the soil.
For those gardeners who use chemicals, foliar feeding will help the plant recover more quickly from transplanting shock and help to encourage roots to grow down to moist soil levels.
Mulch the surface.
A layer of organic matter, such as bark, chippings or gravel, will reduce evaporation from the soil surface and at the same time beautify a border. Bark has been proven to help soils retain moisture six times longer than ordinary garden soil.
For deep-rooted plants it is also a good idea to sink a plastic pot beside the root area and fill this with gravel. Any subsequent watering can then be applied through the pot and means it gets right down to the roots.
This is a great technique for watering sweet peas and runner beans.
I am planning on trying that again this year on the runners, which I have not planted through a permeable weed-control membrane.
I have planted most through the stuff, which looks horrible but it does control weeds and retains moisture down on the allotment.
There is an increasing proliferation of water butts, even on allotments where water is included in the rent, which shows gardeners care about the environment.
Careful selection of plants can also greatly reduce water use and a fig is one good choice.
In my youth I remember figs rarely ripening. As I have aged, it has become the norm and they need very little water.
Brown Turkey remains the best variety and eating fresh figs at summer’s end with blue cheese and crispy toast is just one of those moments.
Outdoor tomatoes used to be the poor relation of those in the greenhouse.
But improvements in varieties now mean they ripen even in uncertain summers and don’t have that awful tough skin they used to which left my mother with the habit of peeling tomatoes for both her granddaughters.
Dobies’ Incas is one I have grown both indoors and out in the past couple of years and performs equally well with, or without, protection.