Excessive rainfall can cause havoc in our gardens. Adrienne Wild has some sound, eco-friendly advice

Weather-wise garden tips

Salvaging a waterlogged garden is easier than you think © iStock

Tropical air blowing in from the south-west along with a strong El Niño phenomenon have been given as reasons for this winter’s mild, wet and windy weather.

Unseasonal temperatures have put seasonal rhythms out of kilter, with spring flowers blooming before Christmas, crops like asparagus emerging months before their time and wildlife such as hedgehogs, birds and bees becoming active and foraging for food only to find many of their natural habitats had been destroyed by rain and even floods.

For many of us, our immediate concern is how to salvage a waterlogged garden. After such severe weather, it will take time and dedication to get things back to some sort of normality, but you will be wise to take a new, eco-friendly approach to gardening.

Rethink your garden design

At all costs avoid paving over large areas of the garden, as surface run-off will add to
the problem of flooding.

What to do:

✿ Think about installing raised decking over bare soil or use aggregate, which allows rain
to soak in, to replace the patio.

✿ Make borders bigger, so that plant roots will draw on the moisture in the soil and you could also replace fences with wildlife-friendly hedges.

✿ Aim to make your new style garden a pesticide-free sanctuary and encourage biodiversity with insect hotels and log piles to provide homes for bees.

✿ The all-essential compost heap will also become home and a hiding place for creatures like hedgehogs, worms and toads, so make it a big one and enjoy the rich rewards of ready supplies.

✿ When designing border schemes, site them in sheltered parts of the garden and avoid varieties that will need watering in a drought. To protect these new borders and also hedges from the effects of gale force winds, use netting to create a screen around plants while they establish. Cover up bare soil with ground cover and mulches to prevent soil erosion and protect roots from freezing.

Consider planting…

…a tree in wet areas as they can suck up 1-4litres of water per day and willows, especially, will aggressively seek out water, but consider your actions carefully as trees may also become a nuisance in times of drought.

✿ Other plants that will help drain boggy soil are dogwoods or cornus, which come with
red, green and fiery orange shoots that light up the winter garden, and herbaceous flag iris, astilbe and rudbeckia, which act like sump pumps.

✿ Wild flowers will bring in birds, bees and butterflies year after year and can be used to create pictorial ‘meadows’, and ‘prairie grasslands’, or used to enhance your roof and insulate your home.

Go organic

Give new and established plants a boost by feeding. Among the acceptable organic fertilisers are dried blood that provides the essential leaf-making nitrogen, bone meals that feed plants phosphates that help in root development, and wood ash that adds the essential flower- and fruit- producing potash.

Waterlogged soil

Soil is the lifeblood of the garden and the open, crumbly structure that us gardeners’ work hard to achieve will have been wrecked by excessive rain compacting the surface and squashing out valuable air.

As a result, many plant roots will have drowned, which you can detect by a sour, rotten-egg smell. You may also have already started to see your plants showing signs of extreme stress, such as yellowing and wilting leaves.

What to do:

✿ Ideally, keep off saturated soil until it is workable to avoid making it worse, but at the earliest opportunity and working only from planks of wood, start to clear the debris.

✿ Dig up and discard herbaceous plants that fail to open or put up very weak growth.

✿ If sulking evergreen shrubs have peeling bark and roots that are black, soft and soggy, it’s unlikely they will recover. And for deciduous shrubs, simply scrape the bark and if you find the layer beneath dry, brittle or brown, then you can be sure that the plant is dead, not just dormant.

To help recovery

Fork over border soil to allow surface water to drain and to help reduce the impact of future heavy rains on beds and borders by adding coarse gravel and plenty of organic matter, which in turn will encourage earthworms, that in turn help improve drainage and aeration.

Spike lawns with a fork and fill the holes with lime-free sand to prevent puddles from forming.

Consider laying…

… a herringbone system of drainage ditches filled with coarse gravel that run into a 60-90cm deep sump at the lowest, wettest parts of the garden to cope with sudden deluges.