Hot, dry weather calls for special measures

It's quite normal to be busy at the height of summer, but the recent prolonged drought did exacerbate things, impacting on all aspects of gardening.

Saturday, 28th July 2018, 4:43 pm
Courgettes have benefited from the shade cast by large leaves and some are reaching football proportions. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Courgettes have benefited from the shade cast by large leaves and some are reaching football proportions. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

In the absence of rain, lawns naturally struggled to remain green, fruits on trees and bushes developed more slowly and vegetables were wilting for want of water.

Earlier soil preparation always helps in such situations, but precipitation is key to survival.

Some lawns I see are simply stunning and obviously pride and joy to the enthusiasts who tend them.

Essentials are: good site, soil and drainage, finest quality grass and year-round maintenance programme.

When such a well-maintained feature sits at the heart of an ornamental garden, it lifts the surrounding borders in a most eye-catching way. I can, therefore, empathise with lawn enthusiasts who have suffered as no less a crop than the vegetables and fruits grown in this garden has struggled to survive.

But grass has a durability that belies its gentle appearance. Brown it may be, but dead, no. Just watch it gradually regain composure as the rain falls.

The drought was having an adverse effect on our vegetables until I stepped in with supplementary watering.

Late maturity is acceptable, but when potato foliage is wilting on land manured the previous autumn, rapid action is required. Subsequently, first early varieties Maris Bard and Foremost delivered potatoes in late June, but smaller than usual, so we gave them more time.

Runner beans have reached the top of the canes after a slow start, and mist spraying of flowers in the heat has speeded-up the setting of pods.

Corn-on-the-cob and courgettes have thrived under the scorching sun.

Sweet corn Sundance was bred for the shorter season of northern climes and normally grows to just under 1m, the cobs enlarging in mid-August. This time it’s not only taller, but also has swelling cobs in July.

Ball courgettes in green and yellow have benefitted from the shade cast by the plant’s large leaves. Failure to keep harvesting them for the kitchen has already resulted in some of football proportion and bigger.

As if to confirm the necessity of organic soil content when growing fruit, we’re enjoying a strawberry and raspberry bonanza. Currants, gooseberries and blackberries are also looking good, but the top fruits do need more rain.

Ornamental plants are just as prone to drought conditions. Anything introduced last autumn or this past spring, trees especially, needs a regular supply of water.

Holly trees have been reacting to the recent drought as many evergreens do in shedding some of their leaves to reduce transpiration. This is to be expected under the circumstances. For reassurance that the tree is not about to expire, stand back and look objectively at how many healthy leaves remain.