More than ever, this summer has brought home to us that we may need to prepare our gardens for extended heatwaves and periods of little rainfall in the future. The news has been full of stories on riverbeds drying up, water shortages and hosepipe bans.
Many of us will have struggled to keep our gardens watered this summer. However, there are measures that we can take to make our gardens more resilient to these hot dry spells, making them a little easier to maintain at the same time.
During dry periods, cut grass on a longer setting and leave the clippings on the lawn
Lawns can look rather worse for wear during dry spells but brown grass isn’t dead and tends to recover fairly quickly once rainfall resumes.
During dry periods, lawncare experts recommend cutting grass on a longer setting and leaving the clippings on the lawn so that they act as a mulch, keeping water beneath the soil surface.
Consider planting wild flowers and bulbs for a more resilient and wildlife friendly green space...
If you are in an area which is often subject to hosepipe bans and you’re fed up of looking at a brown square of lawn in the height of summer, you could consider letting the grass grow longer next year and planting wild flowers and bulbs for a more resilient and wildlife friendly green space.
The best times for planting a wildflower area are spring and autumn. Mow meadows once at the end of the summer when the wildflower seeds have dropped and remove the cuttings as wild flowers prefer to germinate and grow in poorer unfertilised soil.
A Mediterranean-style gravel garden filled with drought tolerant plants will cope well with hot, dry spells...
Embrace the Mediterranean!
A Mediterranean-style gravel garden filled with drought tolerant plants will cope well with hot, dry spells, with the added benefit of being low maintenance as the gravel keeps weeds under control.
Although a gravel garden involves hard landscaping, this needn’t be harsh. Incorporating curves and softening edges with planting can create a relaxed, organic feel. Gravel isn’t particularly stable for placing tables and chairs and it can become displaced in high traffic areas so a decked area for dining and a different medium for paths, such as large pavers, might be more suitable.
Plants with grey green or silver leaves, such as lavender, gaura, chamomile, erigeron and rose campion tend to have low moisture and maintenance demands and are ideal for gravel style gardens.
For structure, consider incorporating cardoons or ornamental grasses for movement and interesting seedheads that will last well into winter (as well as providing food for the birds!).
Plants such as hollyhocks are accustomed to little water and few nutrients so are particularly robust...
How do I know if a plant is drought tolerant
Plants don’t exactly come labelled ‘drought tolerant’ but there are a couple of good rules to use if you are at the garden centre and wondering what to buy.
Plants that tend to grow out of cracks in walls or paving, such as hollyhocks, centranthus ruber and dianthus are accustomed to little water and few nutrients so are particularly robust, as are those with tiny hairs on their leaves, such as pelargoniums, stachys and artemesia.
Plants with leaves that are aromatic, spiny, fleshy or with very small leaves (and so less evaporation) are also good – these include rosemary, eryngium and sedum.
Mulch is our friend in times of drought as it helps to keep moisture within the soil...
Keep moisture in!
Mulch is our friend in times of drought as it helps to keep moisture within the soil. Lawns, beds and containers can all be mulched with a variety of mediums, including bark chip, leaf mould, compost, gravel or even cardboard or newspaper which can be dug into the soil once it breaks down, adding precious organic matter.
Mulch should be applied in a thick layer (up to 5cm depending on the medium used) when the soil is moist, to lock the moisture in. Mulch also helps to suppress weeds, which can be a huge drain on moisture levels.
Dense planting with good ground cover plants such as geranium or bergenia will also act as a mulch, covering bare soil and helping to prevent evaporation.
Deep watering encourages plants to develop a healthy root system...
A final word on watering
Time spent establishing watering systems at the start of the growing season can save hours of work and help to avoid waste with inefficient watering. Drip feeding systems are excellent because they apply moisture directly to the roots of the plant where it is most effective.
Timers will ensure that taps are not left on indefinitely! It is better to water deeply less frequently, rather than watering frequently but superficially. Deep watering encourages plants to develop a healthy root system which reaches down for residual water when the going gets tough.
As we all become more aware of water as a precious resource, and the weather becomes warmer, a garden that becomes more self-sustainable and requires less watering can only be a good thing.
As the growing season comes to an end and the weather becomes more temperate, now is a good time to plan for the garden you want next year. Less clipping, sprinkling and mowing, more mulching and mooching – who can argue with that?!