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Tips For Dry Weather Gardening

Gardeners in the UK are facing a difficult summer after the driest spring in over 100 years. But how can home horti­cul­tu­rists cope?

Summer is a time of excitement for gardeners conjuring up manicured lawns, immaculate roses, and a cornucopia of other flora.

But this year the usual optimism is in danger of drying up.

Across England and Wales spring rainfall was 86.9mm - the driest since 1893, according to the Met Office. It's meant problems for gardeners.

Already this has meant gardeners have had to plant seeds quicker and be more selective when deciding what to plant. They also need to consider how plants that will fare well in a hot dry summer will do when the cold eventually returns.

Best plants for dry weather

  • English Lavender
  • Rosemary
  • Trees and shrubs
  • Geraniums
  • Lilacs
  • Ornamental alliums
  • Pelargoniums
  • Petunias

"It's a confusing time for gardeners as a lot of things that can be put in are high risk and may not survive the winter," says Dr Phil Gates, a senior lecturer in botany at Durham University and gardening blogger.

This isn't the first time gardeners have been unsure of what to plant.

After the warm weather of 2007, gardeners became excited about what exotic plants they could grow. Banana and palm trees soon became in vogue. But many did not survive the cold British winter.

Plants to avoid

  • Bedding plants
  • Salad crops such as lettuce and rocket
  • Busy Lizzies
  • Salvias

Now erratic weather is the trend we need to develop an approach of coping when the weather doesn't do what we expect.

Of the recent dry weather, East Anglia was the worst affected area in the country as it has seen the driest spring for 101 years.

And in Kent, the "garden of England", gardeners are having to take extra measures to preserve that status.

Plants such as geraniums and petunias are flourishing, as are wild flowers, whereas water-absorbing busy lizzies and salvias have all been given the cut.

Gardeners are using hanging baskets with reservoirs to stop water seeping through the bottom as well as water retention tablets.

Dry weather gardening tips

  • Scrape back the surface to make sure water goes to the roots
  • Re-use house water, collect rain water
  • For vegetables, step up watering two weeks before eating
  • Water late at night so it's absorbed before evaporating
  • Add a layer of mulch to keep moisture in
  • Don't cut the lawn too short in the summer
  • Put soaked newspaper under crops that need lots of water
  • Use screens or windbreaks to reduce effects of drying winds

As an increase in average temperatures has seen the growing season extended, when to plant seeds has also changed.

So if you wanted your roses to bloom perfectly in June, you really would have had to have planted them in October rather than in March, so that the roots can be established and get a good soaking over the winter months.

Not all areas of the UK are suffering from the dry weather as Scotland saw three times the average amount of rain this spring.

"Scottish people have a much more sensible attitude towards it - they are not put off by bad weather," says Lesley Watson, RHS judge and owner of New Hopetoun Gardens near Edinburgh.

"Bananas and palms were never grown here as we're very realistic about what can and can't be grown in Scotland."

We don’t think this applies to use just yet as we have seen quite a bit of rain recently, says Greengates Builders Merchants Accrington, Lancashire.

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