In England Summer is hotting up and this year we have seen a long spell of dry, hot weather. Good for holidays, bad for most plants. But there are a few things you can do both during a drought and in preparation.
Before a drought:
1- Before things get hairy and the prize Dahlias you bought are being frazzled think about the soil you are putting them in. For sandy soil that doesn’t retain moisture or hard clay that bakes your plants look at adding organic material. A good one is farmyard manure, either begged from a local with horses or cows or ordered offline which is typically £40-£70 for a bulk bag. And don’t skimp. You want to be lathering it on thick in late Autumn or Spring with a good 70-100mm covering and then let the worms and other organisms take it down into the earth. The added benefits of course being excellent fertiliser.
2- Talking about Fertiliser, think about when you feed your plants. We are all told to feed at certain key times like after pruning and after flowering but if you are overfeeding and have an extra lush foliage plant going into a hot summer it’s going to suffer. Lusher leaves require more water uptake and will wilt the soonest when water is scarce. Sometimes you need to sacrifice a bit if bulk for a less needy plant.
3- If you have an enclosed area that you know incinerates plants in the summer months you need to accept you aren’t going to be growing lush big leaved plants. Embrace the slightly Mediterranean/scrubland look and research plants that can survive without you being out there with a hose every night. Look for small leaved, often grey or silver coloured foliage and it’s likely to be good at surviving a drought.
4- Taking the last point a bit further you could think about having a gravel bed, with a membrane on top of the soil and gravel on top of that you can plant through it to make a low maintenance but attractive bed. Things like grasses, silvery perennials and specimen shrubs look good in gravel and to accent the plants you can buy bags of Scottish or Atlantic pebbles and cobbles at most garden stores to arrange around the bases.
During a drought:
1- Water as late in the day as you can to make the most of the water you use; watering in full sun in the heat of the day may seem like when the plants need it most but waiting until cooler conditions means less water will evaporate before it can be taken up by the plant.
2- Put down bark or wood chippings. This is not an easy thing to do when everything is in full foliage in summer but it helps to conserve water in the soil.
3- Consider irrigation. If you don’t have time to be watering and the plants are dying then one option is leaky hose piping. This is a hose (normally black in colour) that connects to your garden tap and is laid semi permanently in the beds. It gradually oozes water and as it isn’t spraying it through the air, less evaporates and the soil has time to really absorb it. A good thing to do is have a timer that comes on for a little while every 2 nights or so. Can’t be used with a hose pipe ban though.
4- Don’t plant any new plants during a drought. I see it a lot and its very tempting when you go to garden centres and see beautiful plants in full flower to take them home and pop them in. Even if you are willing to water them everyday the plant will have difficulties establishing and will likely be stressed in very hot weather. If you have bought pots try and keep them in a semi-shaded spot in the heat of the day to minimise wilt. Plant out specimens that aren’t in flower yet because when they are flowering that’s where their main energy focus will be instead of putting out vigorous roots and being able to absorb water and nutrients effectively from the soil.
An example of foliage heavy plants, Acanthus, struggling in the heat