Improving water management in RHS gardens, domestic gardens and the wider horticultural community

RHS project team
Janet Manning
Cranfield University
Start date
01/01/2018 00:00:00
End date
01/01/2021 21:00:00
The problem
Climate change brings with it extreme weather – flooding, drought, heatwaves and storms. Statistics have shown a 17% increase in household water demand during dry spells. Yet, there’s no ‘new’ water, it just keeps going around in natural cycles – we only have a certain amount. 

Water is the lifeblood of plants, a precious natural resource critical for gardeners and the horticultural industry as well as being essential for delivering multiple environmental and health benefits around the UK.
To understand water management practices already used in gardens this research began by reviewing existing literature, interviewing RHS gardeners and using an online survey to ask the public about their techniques for water management such as rainwater harvesting, practices to best look after soil, mulching and technological innovations, like control irrigation.

The fact-finding stage highlighted that knowing ‘how much and how often’ to water ‘new and annual plants’, and ‘adapting to climate change’ by having the ‘right water storage solution’ are key priorities for gardeners.

With support from industry and colleagues, these practices and querires will then be analysed and answered using working trials – visible to visitors at RHS Garden Wisley. The success will be recorded to determine a short list of effective and ineffective techniques

If promising innovations are found, we will begin working with industrial partners to promote these and possibly develop new products for horticulture.
We won’t tackle climate change and its effects in big steps, it’ll be marginal gains along the way. Saving water resources is one action we can all do. This research will find the tools and techniques to help us minimise our impact and make a positive change in our gardens.
Benefits to gardeners
Research into optimising water use could not only benefit gardeners, landscapers, the horticulture industry and pretty much anyone using water at home, through cost savings; but also the water industry as a whole, by helping to ensure that we all have enough water during times of peak demand.
Summary of results
The online survey, targeted at members of the public, has so far highlighted that providing a plant with the right amount of water (rather than too much or too little) is one of the best ways to get good growth, perfect plant quality and fewer losses of plants. 

A total of 3447 survey responses were received. The topic that scored the most interest overall was ‘knowing how to adapt gardens to cope with a changing climate’. Gardeners were also keen to know ‘how much and how often’ plants really need to be watered. 

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.