The Plantsman’s Nursery

Plant care for severe dry conditions

July 26th, 2018
HELIANTHEMUM Ben Hope

How the nursery is dealing with the drought

The last time we recall rain on the nursery in Wenhaston was the week before our Grand Spring Fair; Monday 30th April to be precise. Torrential rain saturated the site and our biggest concern was whether our newly planned parking area for the event would become to muddy to drive on.

That was over 12 weeks ago, since then there has been just 1 or 2 days of insignificant drizzle and although we are making the most of this very un-British climate each day is a struggle to care for the plants.

Our potted stock is normally irrigated overhead but this year Gillian decided that in order to preserve more water she would begin hand watering everyday and what a wonderful decision that was.
Automatic overhead irrigation can be very wasteful both environmentally and financially, the fine spray often evaporates before it touches the plants, or waters unnecessary areas of grass and ground sheet.

Whereas, time consuming as it may be, hand watering is very accurate and gives just enough water to the correct plants in the quantity required. Gillian’s watering routine starts around 6.30am in the morning and can often last until 10am or longer but the plants are thriving and the minimal water is being lost.

Useful Tips on watering

Below are some of our tips of how best to minimise the amount of water you use whilst maximising its efficiency:

  • Plants transpire (lose water) in the heat. Water early in the morning when temperatures are low and the rate of plant transpiration is lower
  • Identify plants that need more water than others and water accordingly, don’t just blanket water. The image shows our giant Rudbeckia maxima – over 8ft tall and wet watered by Gill each day.
  • Blue leafed plants are usually from Mediterranean climates and require much less water
  • Mulch around the base of plants with compost or leaf mulch to retain moisture at the roots
  • For container planting capture excess water run off in trays and reuse, standing pots in trays in very warm conditions can help but make sure they don’t get water logged if left too long and remove before winter.
  • Avoid using sprinklers, similarly to our overhead irrigation they aren’t efficient.
  • Water regularly to keep the moisture topped up, a little everyday is more effective than a soaking once a week
  • Cut back herbaceous plants to help them recover, if a plant looks past its TWP (temporary wilting point) it may still recover, cutting it back and watering ensures that minimum water is lost from the leaves and any water available is obtained by the roots. The plant should happily regrow foliage in the same season or the following year.
  • Similarly if your planting herbaceous plants in dry weather cut them back to encourage all the plants power back to its roots, you may sacrifice the flower for this season but you’ll save the plant
  • Conserve water where possible, for every time we quickly rinse something in the sink that water can be collected and used in the garden, even mild soapy water can be used on trees and shrubs

Plants suitable for very dry conditions

It is important to remember that even ‘drought tolerant’ plants require water as some stage. Often we’ll see something growing naturally in dry areas but when we plant the same thing it wilts, this is because plants need to settle in and find their own water sources. Always keep plants well watered in the first year of their planting as it takes time for them to settle in.

Here some recommendations of plants that will tolerate severe dry conditions, all taken from our experiences on the nursery this summer

Dry Sunny Positions

Perovskia Blue Spire  STIPA tenuissima HELIANTHEMUM Ben Hope

Dry Shady Positions

Bergenia Eroica DRYOPTERIS filix mas EPIMEDIUM x youngianum Niveum

How and when to plant

In such dry conditions it is always inadvisable not to plant beds and borders especially trees and shrubs, unless you are able to efficiently water and care for them daily. Always incorporate a good quality compost in the planting hole if you must plant anything and water regularly.
But if you can avoid the main borders and just look at maintaining a few pots for the terrace then these will provide you with colour until the garden recovers in the autumn. Pots are easier to manage if well kept and watered regularly.

To see our recent offers for drought tolerant plants for containers  Click Here 

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