Tag Archive: drought


constant gardenerIn this third article about climate change and the garden (originally published in 2013), I set out some ideas on how the gardener can manage the day-to-day garden environment and other short-term measures to modify the impact of abnormal weather events. As previous articles have outlined, these seem likely to become more frequent  as a result of the warming of the planet and associated climate changes around the world.

I think it’s fair to say that effective gardening in the future will rely on gardeners:

  1. Being well prepared for abnormal weather events  and taking steps to change the design, planting and systems in the garden to cope (the subject of my previous article)

  2. Being aware of, and using, a range of information about the weather, plants, pests etc. (I’ll look at these issues in my final article), and

  3. Developing gardening skills and techniques as well as a flexible, ‘can do’ attitude – or what I’m calling the ‘Constant Gardener’ –  the subject of this article.

‘Constant’ implies dependability, ongoing attention and responsiveness,  qualities that the ‘climate change gardener’ will need if the gardens of tomorrow are to be as productive, beautiful and healthy as today. Just like Justin Quayle’s ‘gentle but diligent attention to his plants’ in the film of the same name, in fact!

The focus of the Constant Gardener is on how those annual and biennial plants that we raise from seed can be nurtured and protected from the worst excesses of the weather. However, attention to how perennials, shrubs and trees are faring will also require vigilance throughout the year and possibly remedial action, if the weather threatens to harm a particular plant or area of the garden.

So, what can the Constant Gardener do?

A moveable awning or sun shade like this could help to protect tender plants from the hottest part of the day
A moveable awning or sun shade like this could help to protect tender plants from the hottest part of the day
  • To cope with periods of hot sun, consider temporary shades that can be moved around the garden to provide protection for tender plants where there is no natural shade – e.g awnings slung between posts which can be moved to shade beds or borders at risk from ‘frying’. I mentioned the value of permanent structures like pergolas and arbours in my last article.

  •  To ensure successful nurturing of plants from seed, sow in smaller quantities and in successive batches – especially if you’re growing food, where successional sowings will in any case give you (hopefully) a steady supply rather than a glut followed by nothing.

    Sowing seeds in small batches at different times of the season can help to thwart the impact of abnormal weather - especially on food crops

    Sowing seeds in small batches at different times of the season can help to thwart the impact of abnormal weather – especially on food crops

  • Carry out plant propagation and nurturing under cover and in frost free spaces ideally you will have in place a variety of growing conditions, light frost-free rooms in the house, greenhouse/conservatory and cold frame – make sure you use them effectively to harden plants off before they are fending for themselves outside.

  • Choose plants – especially fruit and veg – from varieties that you like to eat and which are resilient or suited to the sorts of conditions you’ve created in your garden and the weather extremes that seem likely (though this itself may be increasingly difficult to predict). For a ‘belt and braces’ approach, grow a few different varieties if you’re not sure about the best ones for you and your garden. Your choice may also mean that you’ll need to compromise  a bit on quality as a trade – off for resilience.

  • If you’re buying plants, be vigilant about pests and diseases  – with increased plant mobility between countries as well as an increased geographical growing range for some species, the risk of importing pests and diseases is increasing.

  • Delay sowing if your soil is slow to warm up – early sowing is a gamble where the odds are against you, whereas sow a little late and the odds will probably shift in your favour.

  • Be prepared to accept failure and learn from it for next time. Keeping records of seasonal weather, the varieties grown and how they fared is invaluable when growing food crops.

  • If there’s a choice, opt for growing quick food crops – this way there’s less time for them to be affected by abnormal weather.

    Radishes are a quick growing crop

    Radishes are a quick growing crop

  • Remember the ‘transfer window’ – make sure you prick out, pot up and pot on regularly, before plants give up the ghost or succumb to ‘damping off’. Aim to grow a few strong plants rather than lots of weaklings!  This will make for better resistance to pests and diseases.

  • Rotation plus – you’re probably aware of the importance of moving your food crops around the garden to avoid the build up of pests and diseases associated with one family of fruit or veg, as well as moderating the drain the plants put on the soil’s fertility. The Constant Gardener should also consider successional sowings of the same crop in different parts of the garden if possible (what you might call ‘Divided Bed’ gardening) and if you want to be ultra cautious you could use different varieties too!

    Horticultural fleece can be a quick way to protect young plants from overnignt frost
    Horticultural fleece can be a quick way to protect young plants from overnignt frost
  • Protect young plants against frost – use fleece, cloches or other temporary covers

  • If plants have suffered from a wet/flooded winter, give them a spring feed, mulch over the root area and give them a foliar feed during the growing season to build up their strength.

  • Use water harvested from wet periods (in butts, barrels or tanks) to water effectively in dry times. Use pipes and ‘SIP’ plastic bottle feeders plunged into the ground to ensure water gets straight to the plant’s roots. Avoid using sprinklers and hoses as much of the water they deposit on the surface of grass or earth evaporates. You could go for a green solar -powered watering system like the one in the picture!

    A solar-powered water harvesting and distrbution system
    A solar-powered water harvesting and distrbution system
  • Over – winter tender plants in containers in an inside, well-lit and frost-free room or greenhouse, conservatory, or cold frame (ideally with insulation and the scope for added heat when necessary). If they can’t be moved out of the ground, mulch with  suitable organic material to protect the roots, and for some wrap up the stem and branches with fleece or similar material.

    Some larger, tender plants will need to be wrapped up for winter
    Some larger, tender plants will need to be wrapped up for winter
  • Keep glasshouse, conservatory and cold frame panes clean to maximise sunlight.

  • Look after wildlife and they’ll look after your garden. Feed birds in tough winter spells and create habitats through planting etc. to attract beneficial insects and other ‘critters’ that will keep pests at bay.

  • Avoid using power tools and equipment if at all possible as these will contribute to the emission of CO2 either directly or indirectly and so fuel global warming.

    Keeping greenhouse glass clean helps to maximise sunlight

    Keeping greenhouse glass clean helps to maximise sunlight

So, to sum up

  • Constant awareness of what the weather is bringing you and your garden

  • Constant willingness to act in the short-term as well as being prepared

  • Constant action to propagate, nurture and protect your plants!

If you have any comments on these ideas or have some of your own, I’d love to hear from you! My final article will look at plant awards, hardiness ratings, pest and disease information and the future of longer term weather forecasting as ways of keeping the gardener well informed.

Previous articles in this series:

Four Seasons in One Day (2): Preparing the garden for climate change

Four Seasons in One Day (1): Climate change and the garden

Source:

‘Monty’s Garden’– article by Monty Don, Gardeners’ World Magazine, January 2013

Further information:

Dig for Victory- how your garden can help beat climate change

Watering advice

Wikipedia- Tiwanaku

Sir John Beddington’s warnings on climate change

Britain like Madeira?

My Climate Change Garden

UK Meteorological Office – impacts of climate change on horticulture

Royal Horticultural Society – gardening in a changing climate

‘Gardening in the Global Greenhouse ‘ – summary

RSPB- guide to sustainable drainage systems (download)

RHS guide to front gardens and parking

Old School Gardener

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droughtI’m now back from very enjoyable visits to the Scottish Hebrides islands of Mull and Arran as well as Northumberland and will release some posts about this over the next couple of weeks (along with some photos I’m rather pleased with…).

In the mean time how about a brief relook at gardening and climate change?

I originally published a series of four articles about gardening and climate change in 2013. Today’s reports of a strong ‘El Nino’ effect in the next couple of years coupled with man-made global warming look set to bring about some more dramatic weather events, albeit the results in the UK might be a little gentler than typhoons and droughts (2015 and 2016 the warmest years on record and maybe a cold winter? -we can’t be sure…).

With this renewed interest, I thought I’d republish the series of four articles over the coming days (apologies to those who have already read these). Today’s understanding of and predictions about climate change do not seem very different to those I was writing about two years ago…

In this first of a series of posts about gardening and climate change, I explore just what the experts are predicting for the UK and what this might mean for our current gardens and gardening techniques.

I think it was Nietzsche who said that madness comes not from uncertainty but certainty. But for the gardeners of Britain, pulling their hair out in the face of ‘the wrong weather at the wrong time’, climate change and the unpredictable weather it is bringing us can frustrate even the most seasoned horticulturist, though perhaps stopping short of madness! It poses significant challenges to gardening customs  and practices, which have in the past been based on the predictable passage of the seasons within fairly certain timings and within, by and large, expected bounds of temperature, wetness, wind and frost (though in the maritime setting of the UK these can all vary considerably from area to area). So maybe we need to look upon these greater levels of uncertainty as a challenge and one which will actually be mentally stimulating!

The underlying changes have already begun to unfold in the UK (and elsewhere):

  • A gradual, overall rise in average temperatures

  • Increased frequency of extreme weather events like rain and flooding, frost and snow, wind or drought

drowned cars aus

A few years ago a seminal article on the impact of climate change on gardening in  the UK (‘Gardening in the Global Greenhouse’ by Richard Bisgrove and Paul Hadley of the University of Reading) pointed up these trends and started the debate about what they will mean for Britain’s gardens. The main conclusions were:

  • reduced frosts

  • an earlier spring

  • higher average temperatures all year round

  • increased winter rainfall, leading to increased risk of flooding 

  • hotter, drier summers, leading to an increased risk of drought.

FloodedGardenMayCredAdrianBloom_L

They pointed to how these trends were likely to make looking after large areas of lawn and grass increasingly difficult and costly, and how some traditional garden features may have to be replaced by new ones, more suited to changing conditions (e.g. loss of some ‘cottage garden’ favourite plants). Arguably there is even a greater challenge for heritage gardens, which have traditionally featured large lawns, herbaceous perennials and specific planting combinations and effects which were developed in climatic conditions that will gradually disappear.

It also seems that there’s something of a north – south split in the UK, with the south becoming warmer and drier and the north subject to wetter weather, in the winter especially, though recent storms and flooding in the south west and southern Britain might seem to run ounter to this trend.

On the plus side, botanic gardens have had to be intensively managed in order to grow the widest possible range of plants in ‘living collections’ and these highly managed environments may provide scope for growing an increased range of plants, as increased temperatures and the other key trends take effect. Botanic gardens are also in a key position to promote and spread knowledge on climate change and its effects.

In gardens more generally, plants are also grown in very favourable conditions:

  • propagated in controlled conditions

  • planted into carefully prepared ground

  • protected from pests and diseases and competing plants

This should give us some optimism that the techniques and conditions for responding to climate change are already well developed and gives the garden an advantage over nature.

frosted plant

Though rather slow and insidious, it is already possible to detect some of these trends. The Central England Temperature Record shows that between 1750 and 1900 (150 years) the average temperature in Central England increased by 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.7 degree celsius). During the 20th century this trend advanced faster so that the average temperature rose by a further 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit with two thirds of this increase happening since the 1970’s.

This record also shows how 5 of the 6 warmest years since records began in 1659 occurred in the ten years 1989-99. The prevalence of frosts has also declined: an average of 55 frosty days in the 1880’s has reduced to about 35 days by the 1980’s. And closer to home, here in Norfolk, a local gardener has kept records of when certain plants started flowering in her garden from the 1960’s to the 2000’s. Mary Manning’s records show the advancing of Spring: Winter Aconites began flowering in mid January in the 1960’s and by 2000 this had moved to mid December. The same is true of Hazel, which first flowered around the beginning of February in the 1960’s and has likewise moved to before Christmas in forty years.

Global CO2 levels seem to be rising by about 1% per annum, though predictions of the future rate and impact of this inevitably vary according to assumptions about economic growth, reductions in carbon emissions and other factors. But although these underlying trends seem increasingly accepted, we also seem to be getting freak frosts, floods or droughts of varying length and intensity – almost at any time of the year, making the normal weather patterns of the seasons less and less ‘normal’.

Looking at the underlying trends, the impact of climate change on our gardens will most likely be determined by factors such as plant hardiness and tolerance of excessive wet, or drought conditions (see the chart for one forecast of reductions in water availability across the globe). This poses a challenge to the gardener’s ability to drain land or supply water as needed.

the-contribution-of-climate-change-to-declining-water-availability

The British Meteorological Office points up some of the other potential impacts:

  • ‘Increased carbon dioxide levels will increase rates of plant growth and perhaps development (bud burst, flowering and leaf fall)

  • Changes in temperatures are expected to bring an earlier onset of growth in spring and a longer growing season

  • Mild winters may reduce the yield of fruit trees, because colder temperatures are needed to break the buds

  • Increased temperatures will aid the growth of more plants from warmer parts of the world

  • Higher temperatures and decreased summer rainfall will cause stress, especially in plants with extensive, shallow, fibrous root systems

  • Annual moisture content of soils is likely to decrease by 10-20% across the UK by the 2080s, with substantial reductions (of 20-50%) in soil moisture possible in the summer by the 2080s

  • Fungal diseases will thrive with the wet winter conditions.’

Old School Garden in the snow

So, as gardeners we have to cope with both the longer term trends (which arguably will not be very noticeable in the short term) and, perhaps more importantly, increased frequency of unpredictable, extreme weather events of uncertain length and impact. This ‘seasonal uncertainty’ is perhaps our greatest challenge as well as trying to use gardening practices which help to reduce CO2 emissions and are broadly sustainable.

Over the last four decades, extreme weather events have severely damaged many gardens and resulted in major economic losses. These events include:

  • Severe winter weather in 1962/63 that killed many hardy plants

  • Drought in 1976, which weakened trees and dried out lakes

  • Storms in 1987 and 1990 that felled millions of trees

  • Torrential and prolonged rain leading to soil erosion, flooding and drowning of plant roots in 2000, 2001, 2007, 2012 and now 2014

As Monty Don says,’The number one rule remains the same: do not fight nature’ (Gardener’s World Magazine, January 2013). He goes on to observe how ‘the past couple of years have been noticeable for the wrong weather most of the time’. We do not yet know if a new weather pattern (which is another way of saying climate or ‘average weather’) will establish itself , or whether we are in for ever more uncertainty. Or perhaps that’s just it – ‘the one certainty is that the weather will be more uncertain’ and we need to adapt our gardening techniques and habits to cope. As Monty says,

‘Expect the unexpected and be flexible’

So, lets look upon these new circumstances as a challenge to our gardening skills and respond to nature’s call. In my next post on climate change I’ll be looking at the advance measures we can take to better prepare our gardens for the unpredictable and longer term impact of climate change. If you have any direct experiences of climate change or any other comments I’d love to hear from you.

Further information:

Britain like Madeira?

My Climate Change Garden

UK Meteorological Office – impacts of climate change on horticulture

Royal Horticultural Society – gardening in a changing climate

‘Gardening in the Global Greenhouse ‘ – summary

Old School Gardener

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  • chamomile lawnDo choose drought resistant plants

  • Do conserve moisture by mulching in spring when the soil is moist

  • Do mulch problem problem soils- too dry, sandy or chalky- twice a year, in spring and autumn

  • Do build a deep no-dig bed if you want to grow fruit and vegetables

  • Don’t try to grow a conventional lawn. Instead, create patches of green with a herb lawn using thyme or chamomile.

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Readers Digest

Old School Gardener

child-watering-the-gardenWatering-

To reduce watering time grow drought tolerant plants, apply a layer of mulch to prevent evaporation from the soil and water only those plants that really need it. Install an automatic watering system, especially where regular watering is needed, such as for container plants and in the greenhouse.

mulch-your-bordersFurther information:

RHS- Watering Advice

Drought-busting advice- BBC

How to water your plants- Gardeners’ World

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’ (Reader’s Digest 1999)

Old School Gardener

 

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