Runcorn & Widnes Weekly News

Some like it hot


heatwaves or periods of drought, gardens with stony or sandy soils soon run dry because the loose soil structure means water drains away quickly and there is not enough organic matter to retain moisture.

And it’s not just water that leaches out quickly – nutrients are washed away as well – and plants suffer.

This is also the case with shallow chalky soil. A new climate report this week warns that while global temperatur­es continue to rise, heatwaves and drought will become more frequent. So if all or parts of your garden bake dry, what can you do?

Firstly, you can improve your soil structure by the addition of organic material, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure.

This will increase both soil fertility and moisture. It is best done in winter or spring before planting – a good bucketful per planting hole.

However, you can also mulch around existing plants and let the earthworms slowly incorporat­e the goodness into your soil.

Be realistic about what will perform well. Avoid rich moisturelo­ving plants such as hydrangeas, roses, fruit trees, hostas and bamboo. On dry soil they will develop yellow leaves and generally look sad. Though you could still grow them in pots in a good loamy soil, and regularly water them.

On the positive side, there are plenty of plants that relish freedraini­ng soil and particular­ly like the lack of soggy bottoms in winter.

Many Mediterran­ean plants have evolved to grow in stony areas with little rainfall. They often

Prickly sea hollies have evolved to cope

Lambs’ ears like stony areas

Oriental poppies plumb for water

Improve soil by adding compost

Japanese anemones will perform well have silvery leaves and fine hairs, which trap moisture.

Lavender has to be the bestknown example, as well as the fluffy lambs’ ears, Stachys byzantina.

Silver sun-lovers that cope with drought include wormwood (Artemisia), cotton lavender (Santolina), the curry plant (helichrysu­m), Russian lavender (Perovskia), Ballota, Convolvulu­s and catmint (Nepeta).

Perennials that use long tap roots to plumb for water will do well and there are many beauties here, including Verbascum, the gorgeous prickly sea hollies ErynDURING

Catmint can trap moisture gium, coneflower­s, Japanese anemones, Baptisia and oriental poppies. Aromatic herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme will perform well.

While a smooth, bowling green lawn will soon crisp up in dry weather, ornamental grasses will do much better. Try silvery blue ones including Festuca glauca, Koeleria glauca and helictotri­chon, feathery Stipa tenuissima and pennisetum­s with their bottlebrus­h plumes.

Or swap the lawn completely for a thyme one! A good rule of thumb is anything that you see growing from walls, surviving in cracks in mortar, will probably be fine – wallflower­s, erigeron, valerian and campanula all flourish… somehow!

It’s best to plant younger specimens which will adapt more quickly to their tough surroundin­gs rather than older ones which might have got used to a more comfortabl­e life in a nursery pot.

Whichever you choose, water well before planting and while the plant establishe­s itself. For larger areas, consider irrigation for the first year.

It’s best to space plants further apart than usual so they are not all competing with each other for available water and nutrients.

If things get really tough in prolonged periods of drought, cut back the affected plants to help them through till autumn.

Get sorted now and next time there’s a hosepipe ban you can sit back and be reassured that your plants will survive.

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