Summer temperatures are soaring and that’s affecting the way that we garden. Here are some tips on how to look after your garden in a heatwave.
I’m writing this blog at 8 am on a sunny June morning and already the temperature outside is starting to soar. I got up early to walk the dogs before the pavement became hot enough to burn their paws and now they are fast asleep while I’m working. Hey ho!
People and pets are not the only ones who feel the effects of a heatwave. Plants do too. Only plants can’t move themselves into a shadier part of the garden. Neither can they nip inside to get a cool beer from the fridge. So it’s up to us to have a heatwave contingency plan at the ready in order to keep our gardens in good health. Let’s take a look at how you can help each section of your garden.
Heatwave Care For Lawns
Believe it or not, natural grass is very good at looking after itself in all kinds of weather. The usual reaction for lawns in hot weather is to conserve as much moisture as possible by becoming dormant. Leaves will turn golden brown and straw like but trust me, the roots are very much alive and just waiting for a cooling rainstorm.
It’s perfectly normal for your lawn to take on a straw-like appearance in hot dry weather. It will recover quickly after a good shower of rain.
If your lawn has recently been turfed, you MUST keep it well watered during a heatwave. That will probably mean soaking the lawn at least twice a day….maybe even more. If your newly laid turf is allowed to dry out, individual turves will likely shrink, leaving you with ugly tramlines across the whole area. Worse than that – some of the grass will die….all of that time, money and energy expended in creating a new lawn will be lost.
For established lawns, well, you have two choices. Either water them, or accept that they are working with nature and that you won’t be needing to mow the grass in stifling heat.
If your lawn is still growing. Raise the cutting bar and let the grass grow a little longer. That way it will shade the soil (and the roots) and create a nice, cool microenvironment for itself.
Caring For Veggie Gardens In The Heat
If, like me, you are growing your own veggies this year to try to combat rising food prices, you’ll naturally be a bit concerned to see all of your salad leaves flopping listlessly onto the soil. I’m afraid, that if you want a good crop of anything, you will probably need to keep irrigating.
Water is a precious resource so do what you can to minimise its use.
- Water in the very early morning or in the late evening to cut down the amount of H2O lost to the atmosphere through evaporation in the hot weather.
- Use a watering can or a leaky pipe irrigation system so that every drop of elixir reaches the soil.
- Drench the soil – it’s no good giving it a quick sprinkle to settle the dust. That water needs to get down to where the plants’ roots are. It’s better to really soak the plants every other day than to sprinkle them twice a day.
- Mulch, mulch, mulch. Adding a thick layer of compost to the top of the soil helps to retain water.
- Keep feeding your plants, healthy plants are better able to cope with drought
- If your fruit and veggies are in a greenhouse or polytunnel, ventilate it as much as you can.
- Leave a bucket full of water in your greenhouse, this will increase the humidity so that plants are less likely to lose water from their leaves. Keep an eye out for fungal diseases though – plants need to be well spaced and have good air flow.
Mature trees are a godsend in hot weather. They provide you, and their fellow plants with welcome shade and help to cool the atmosphere. Help them by mulching around their base to conserve soil moisture.
Newly planted trees however, need a little TLC in hot weather. Just like new turf, the soil around their roots must NEVER be allowed to dry out. A young tree can use up to 30 litres of water a day, which is several watering can’s worth. My recommendation is to invest in a tree watering bag. You only need to fill it every couple of days or so and you can easily see when it needs topping up. (I’ve never used this particular brand of tree watering bag, so this is an example rather than a recommendation)
Never underestimate the value of trees in a garden. Not only are they great at cooling a space on a hot day – they make amazing features when lit up after dark.
Beds And Borders
Established herbaceous perennials are remarkably resilient to drought. Just keep an eye on them and if they look floppy or sad, give them a good drink of water. Mulching will help to keep their roots cool and damp. Applying a liquid feed will boost help them stay healthy.
New plants – well, they may need a little help until they get their roots established. Again, I can’t stress the importance of mulching. Your freshly planted border will thank you for installing an irrigation system. And so will your diary. Modern systems can be operated either with a timer, or using an app on your phone. So you’ll be able to water your garden from you sun bed in Tenerife. Or, if the weatherman says it’s raining at your house, you can switch the irrigation off.
Caring For Planters And Hanging Baskets
Plants in pots, hanging baskets and window boxes have limited access to ground water and so they need extra TLC during a heatwave. A gravel mulch can look really attractive in a container garden and will help conserve water. And an irrigation system will help too. If you can, move your planters into a shadier part of the garden but whatever you do – DO NOT let the soil dry out.
Green Roofs In Hot Weather
I’ve noticed that more and more gardeners in Surrey are investing in living roofs. And I have to admit that I’m pleased to see it. Green roofs are great insulation for garden buildings and they offer lots of benefits to wildlife too.
How much irrigation your green roof needs will depend on its age, the depth of growing medium used and the type of plants you have chosen. Sedum roofs are very drought resistant. They may turn red during a heatwave – that’s the plants’ drought defence mechanism kicking in. However, if the leaves on your sedum plants go all wrinkly, like deflated balloons, then they are suffering. One good long drenching should revive them for a couple more weeks.
Looking After Yourself In A Heatwave
Your garden has the potential to be a wonderful tool for self-care in a heatwave. I’m not going to lecture you about staying hydrated and using sun cream. You know all that. But there’s nothing better on a hot day than finding a shady spot in the garden and relaxing. Try to surround yourself with living plants – they’re very good at making you feel cooler (which is why you see them being nurtured in so many holiday resorts in hot countries.)
If there is no shade in your garden, invest in a parasol or a sail. Or even better, ask your landscaper to build you some kind of structure than will keep you cool in summer and warm in winter.
Garden lighting will mean that you can enjoy your outdoor spaces in the cool of the evening. Why not install an outdoor cinema screen so that you can take your TV viewing outside?
A hot tub or paddling pool is a real luxury in hot weather. Make sure that it is installed onto a firm, level surface. Maybe put one on your wish list for next time there’s a heatwave and ask a landscaper to build you a garden where privacy and slip resistant surfaces are a priority.
The sound of running water has an uncanny way of cooling the blood
Preparing Your Garden For The Next Heatwave
If the last few years are anything to go by, it’s likely that summer heatwaves are going to become the norm for us in the UK. Is your garden ready?
By planning ahead and designing a garden for all seasons, you can be extra sure that you will enjoy your garden every time the temperature starts to feel uncomfortable. (That applies to cold weather as well as hot).
Talk to your landscaper about garden features that not only look good all year round, but offer great value for money in terms of usability. You might want to install water buts to collect rainwater throughout the year that you can use for watering in summer. Or perhaps you want to think about an alternative to a natural grass lawn.
At Manor Landscapes, we’re full of good ideas for building gardens that are easy to look after in a heatwave. We work with some of the best garden designers in the area to bring beautiful gardens to life. Talk to us – we’re very friendly!