Gardening in dry weather

Gardening in dry weather

The Met Office holds weather records from 1910.  The summer of 2018 tied just with three other years’ summers as the joint hottest since the records began.  Then we experienced a mild winter and a heat wave in February!  The mean maximum temperature for February 2019 is the highest since records started in 1910. Climate scientists, tell us that we can expect these types of conditions to become even more common.  There are many serious impacts of this but, closer to home, we’ll notice changes in our gardens.

The main consequence of climate change on our gardens will be shortage of water.  In the short term we are faced with the problem of providing plants with enough water and in the long term with the need to change the way we garden, for example the plants we grow.  Across the UK as a whole May is statistically the driest month, so this information may be timely!

According to the Met Office, plants will be affected by climate change in some of the following ways:

  • Changes in temperatures are expected to bring an earlier onset of growth in spring and a longer growing season, though annual plants may have a shorter flowering season due to water stress
  • Mild winters may reduce the yield of fruit trees, as a period of colder temperature is needed to break the buds
  • Annual moisture content of soils will decrease
  • Increased temperatures will enable the growth of more plants from warmer parts of the world.

What we can do now:

  • Let your lawn grow a little longer than usual to make it more resistant to drought, but when you do cut it, scatter the lawn cuttings thinly around plants (mulching) has several advantages: it disposes of the cuttings; provides some moisture and organic matter; and helps to shade the soil from the drying effects of the sun.
  • Water in the evening rather than during the day and make use of old washing up water to water plants (avoid using grey water on salad crops you’ll eat without cooking though).
  • Get the water to where it is needed and water the roots rather than the leaves.  Avoid watering little and often as this encourages shallow rooting. The deeper the roots, the more able they are to make use of the moisture in the ground.
  • Use shade netting for any delicate plants.
  • Don’t water the lawn – it doesn’t need it as dormant buds in the grass, even if it has gone brown, will start to grow again as soon as it rains.
  • Maintain a shallow, clean source of water in your garden for wildlife.

What we can do for the long term:

  • Install water butts to collect rainwater when it does fall
  • Consider growing drought resistant bedding and perennial plants for example marigolds, petunias, geraniums, or more Mediterranean plants, especially in south-facing or free-draining areas.
  • Avoid peat-based compost as destruction of peat bogs contributes to carbon storage and flood risk management, as well as loss of a valuable habitat in its own right.
  • Create a wildlife pond, even mini-pondscan be great.

The Royal Horticultural Society have produced information on collecting, storing and re-using waterand drought resistant gardening.  A few changes to the way we garden will mean that we shouldn’t have to struggle to keep our gardens flowering & productive.

Adapted by Alison Riggs with permission from an article by the Wye Church Eco-congregation working group

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