Wet weather is part and parcel of gardening in the UK, but there are numerous problems that wet weather can cause in the garden.
When soil is waterlogged, plants can drown. Water fills all the air spaces between the soil particles and this prevents oxygen from reaching the roots, causing the soil to stagnate and preventing root growth.
When waterlogged soil is walked on or driven over, the soil becomes compacted and drainage gets worse.
Waterlogging and compaction can create ideal conditions for diseases such as Phytophthora and other fungal attacks.
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Problem solving and prevention
Whilst wet weather bring many benefits to your garden, there are simple steps you can take to reduce the negative impacts on your plants and prevent problems from setting in.
To help relieve the impact of waterlogging on beds, borders and lawns, avoid walking in on wet soil as this will aggravate compaction. Plants rely on air pockets within the soil for space to expand and grow - compacted soil has fewer air pockets, resulting in poorer growth in the plants it supports.
Dig up waterlogged plants in pots, remove any damaged parts of roots and replant in fresh, free-draining compost. Add crocks or gravel to the bottom of the new pot to ensure that excess water can drain through and consider using a saucer to control watering.
Lastly, remove any dead or dying shoots as these are more likely to rot or develop fungal conditions.
Prevention is better than cure and the following hints will help to keep you garden in tip top condition, and ready for anything the weather might throw at it.
- Apply mulch over the root area to protect against heavy rainfall and prevent excess evaporation which can cause the plant to dry out
- Feed during the growing season to encourage new root growth
- Water regularly in dry spells because plants are more prone to drought stress after prolonged periods of waterlogging
- In clay soil, use plenty of organic matter and horticultural grit before planting to improve soil structure and drainage
- Gently break down the sides of planting holes with a fork
- With free-draining soil, add organic matter to bulk up the soil and add nutrients, which may be washed away in heavy rains
- Build raised beds and fill with well-drained topsoil
- Install a drainage system or soakaway. Dig ditches filled with gravel to drain water away from the garden or talk to a builder about a pipe drainage system if the problem is more extreme
- Do not over-water pot plants
A rain gauge can be useful to check how much water your plants have been exposed to and asses the watering needs of your garden.
Make the most of it
If poor drainage, flooding and waterlogging are persistent problems, it could be worth rethinking your planting scheme. Choose shrubs, trees and perennials that thrive in wet soil, such as:
- Willows (Salix)
- Dogwoods (Cornus)
- Birches (Betula)
- Elder (Sambucus)
- Ash (Fraxinus)
Alternatively you can create a bog garden, which is good also for attracting wildlife. Plant irises, Carex, gunnera, primulas, hostas, rheum and rodgersia.
If you are planning to lay a lawn, ensure the ground is not compacted and dig in plenty of organic matter, grit and sand before laying turf or sowing seeds.
Utilising the rain
Water is one of our most vital resources; it's too precious to waste. Not only is rainwater free, but it is better for plants than tap water as it contains more nutrients. Rainwater will not leave limescale deposits or increase the alkalinity of the soil.
Keep your garden in bloom by using bark as mulch on flower beds, which helps to retain moisture.
Installing water butts and rain water kits will help you to store and recycle water for your garden with ease. Consider diverting rainwater from guttering and downpipes on your home into water butts. Available in a range of sizes, colours and styles, water butts can easily be screened from view and are an ideal solution if you don’t have access to an outdoor tap.
Guttering and rainwater kits can also be added to your shed and greenhouse to maximise water collection – and provide a water source close to your plants.
Be prepared for pests
Our often wet, mild weather sees slugs and snails arrive in their thousands and with gardens coming into bloom they're last thing that gardeners want to see on their patch.
So, a quick fix to keep gardens looking their best and slug and snail free is to pick up a pack of slug pellets. They'll kill both creatures and will keep plants looking their best.