British weather has always been unpredictable. But, with climate change, we're seeing more extreme weather events, such as flooding, drought and storms with incredibly strong winds. How does that affect us in the garden? And is there anything we can do to mitigate these effects?
By growing flood- and drought-tolerant plants, we can make gardening easier during challenging weather events. We can use plants to create windbreaks and shade, and we can conserve rainwater to reduce our reliance on mains water. Lastly, we can all grow more plants – all of which have the power to absorb water and reduce pollution and temperatures, as well as create habitats for wildlife that's also dealing with challenging new conditions.
- Key plants for a climate change garden
- How to reduce your carbon footprint in the garden
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Find out more about gardening in a changing climate, below.
Save rainwater to beat drought
Dry and drought conditions are more likely with climate change. Using water butts to collect rainwater will mean you use less mains water to keep your plants hydrated when conditions are dry. Fix guttering to your shed and greenhouse, and connect a water butt to the down pipe from your house roof if possible, to collect as much rainwater as you can.
Grow drought-tolerant plants to reduce watering
Drought-tolerant plants, such as rock rose, agapanthus and lavender, need less water to stay alive, so if you live in a particularly dry region, it might be worth replacing some thirsty plants with drought-tolerant ones. Lawns can be replaced with drought-tolerant thyme or a sedum mat, while succulents such as sempervivums make an excellent low-maintenance container display.
Grow native plants to cope with changing weather patterns
Native plants and trees, such as foxglove, primrose, guelder rose and hawthorn, are typically better able to withstand changing weather patterns than non-natives. So, by growing more natives, you should need to replace fewer plants as weather patterns and temperatures change. This may not always be the case, however. In the future near natives, such as Mediterranean trees and shrubs, may be better suited to warmer, drier conditions, although different plants will be required if conditions are generally wetter.
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Plant a hedge as a windbreak
Storms and high winds are predicted to be more common with climate change. Hard boundaries, such as fences and walls, are not permeable to wind. Because of this, strong winds can damage fence panels and walls, which are expensive to fix or replace.
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Using a hedge to make a windbreak, which wind filters through slowly, can therefore reduce wind speeds and protect plants growing in front of them. Strong trellis and slatted fence panels will also allow wind to travel through them – grow climbing plants up these to further reduce wind speed and create a shelter belt for insects and other wildlife in your garden.
- How to plant a bare-root wildlife hedge
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Grow plants to reduce pollution
While all plants absorb pollutant particulates such as soot and nitrogen dioxide, some plants, such as ivy, lady's mantle and wallflowers, absorb more than others. We gardeners can therefore grow more of these pollution-busting plants to clean the air, especially if we live in cities.
Growing plants over every available surface in the garden, including walls, fences and trellis panels, will help reduce pollution and mitigate its effects. It's also worth remembering that the leaves of hedges absorb more polluting particles from the air than trees, because they're closer to the ground.
Grow flowers all year round to help pollinators
Climate change means temperatures are less predictable, and mild winters may force bees and other pollinators to wake early from hibernation. It's therefore important to grow flowering plants for as long as possible, so there's always a supply of nectar and pollen to sustain them.
- Plants for pollinators in summer and autumn
- Nectar and pollen throughout the year
- Eight plants to help bees through winter into spring
Reduce hard surfaces to prevent flooding
Hard surfaces, such as paving and decking, prevent rainwater from being absorbed into the ground. This can increase risk of flooding, as more water is forced down drains and into rivers and sewers, which can overflow during bouts of heavy rain. Soft surfaces, comprising plants and soil, have the potential to absorb a great deal of water, which will slowly percolate down to the water table.
As well as reducing hard surfaces and growing plants, you can also create a rain garden. The premise of a rain garden is to hold as much water as possible and let it gently percolate back to the water table, without putting pressure on drainage systems. Creating boggy areas planted up with flood-tolerant plants such as hostas and astilbe will temporarily hold water until it slowly drains away. Garden ponds also hold water, while trees and hedges slow the pace at which water hits the ground, and also absorb huge amounts of water with their roots.
Grow plants to create shade
For most gardeners, shade is considered a problem. We avoid buying houses with north-facing gardens and create vegetable patches and ornamental borders in the sunniest areas possible. However, with climate change, we're likely to see hotter temperatures that make gardening uncomfortable, and could even see plants suffer from sun scorch. Growing trees and tall shrubs to create shade will create cooler conditions that enable us to spend more time outside during extreme temperature events. Deciduous trees, such as silver birch and hornbeam trees will create dappled shade in summer, while letting sun reach the ground in winter.