Water, water, everywhere: If you forget to keep your plants hydrated and there will be only one outcome

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The Independent Online

From time to time I develop a talent for killing things. Not in winter, when I am excellent at running out with bubble wrap whenever there's a frost. But in summer, I can put off watering until the condition of the dry prairie outside the back door is terminal.

The thing is, this carnage is extremely easy to avoid, but it's not just me who kills plants like this. Many people are sharing my failure to water so far this summer. The problem is we are mostly accustomed to being delivered the kind of drab, intermittently grey summer our noble country is famous for. So when six weeks of parched skies come along, we are left high and dry. As are our flowerbeds. (Typically, it's starting to rain as I am writing this.)

Newly planted street trees show exactly how fatal a lack of watering can be: a certain percentage will bite the dust this summer just because the fortnightly council visit doesn't make up for the lack of rain. Trees, like all plants, need to put on growth above and beyond just maintaining their size to see them through the winter. It's our job as custodians to make sure this happens, as it will make them less prone to pests and diseases, and give them longer lives. If you have newly planted trees, ensure they are watered weekly for the first summer, even if there are showers.

But even annual plants that will die at the summer's end need watery attention. Every year, for instance, people ask me, puzzled, why their tomatoes/potatoes/ courgettes failed to flourish anything like as well as their neighbours'. Well, vegetables need gallons of water a week to produce a good crop. And I really mean gallons. For each growbag of tomatoes, each day it doesn't rain, you need to be delivering a full watering can of water. Waiting until the leaves wilt is leaving it too late, and your crop will be smaller as a result.

So far, the message is: lots of water. But the other important thing is regular watering. Ask your local pub landlady how her windowboxes look quite so full and spectacular, and she'll point you in the direction of her expensive but continuous watering system. (That's the thing that drips on your head when you're trying to look all sexy of an evening.) Watering container-grown plants like these every day is a far more effective way of ensuring a gorgeous display than any expensive fertiliser.

Finally, if all else fails, you could just learn to choose your plants wisely. My garden has, by a process of natural selection, ended up mostly full of drought-proof greenery. Succulents, such as agaves and sempervirums, store water in their leaves and are challenging to kill. Even for an expert such as myself.

'Can' do attitude

Buy a watering can you actually like

Those gorgeous metal ones with brass roses are fantastic, but once full, they could make your arms fall off. Treat yourself to a plastic one and keep your Mr McGregor special for ornamental purposes. I love the Haws heavy-duty plastic ones for their long spouts that get right to the base of the plant. £21.99, crocus.co.uk

Have a regular time of day for watering

Watering know-how suggests early in the morning or late at night to avoid instant evaporation. Set a time of day so the task becomes like brushing your teeth. Especially if you have growbags on the go.

Invest in a watering system

A grand effect doesn't have to cost £1,000. Leaky hoses are a perfect way to irrigate at the roots, where it's most needed. 10m of Hozelock hose with a mandatory shutoff valve, £18.37, easywatering.co.uk