Plants that can cope with extremes of weather. Living on the edge

Plants that can cope with extremes of weather. Living on the edge

A hot summer isn't easy for plants. They can suffer badly from heat exhaustion. It takes only a little imagination to hear them calling for water as they reach out with wilting foliage fingers. Many have collapsed before the kind person with the watering can notices.

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The annual flowers placed lovingly into wheelbarrows outside a railway station look gorgeous, but they are rather labour-intensive to maintain during hot weather. Which plants are able to cope with extremes of weather?

There are some luscious lovelies that flourish during a drought, but many of them rely on a caring human with a watering device to keep them nicely hydrated. Although this method of maintenance is essential for some plants – particularly those in pots and those grown for produce, garden plants should ideally be able to cope with a certain amount of extreme weather. Planting drought tolerant species is the way forward if you are looking for low-maintenance. There are many beautiful species that are suitable for hot weather and dry soils.

Drought tolerant plants

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Step forward the drought-tolerant plant family. They often have silvery foliage and a fine coating of hairs. They tend to bounce and jiggle in the sunshine and barely need a drop of sustenance other than what nature brings. And there are others that manage to survive too.  Look to plants such as Lavender, Santolina, Lychnis, Caryopteris, Cynara, Salvia, Eryngium, Artemisia and more. lavender, silvery foliage, drought tolerant, drought resistant, leaves, summer, dry, drought, garden,

Lavender is a good example of a drought-resistant plant that has silvery foliage.

Right plant, right place

It’s all about putting the right plant in the right place. This is an old, well-used adage, but it’s true. If you can get the largest plant positions correct, this will help the under-canopy too. Trees, for example, provide shade and this helps cool other plants. Unfortunately trees also tend to dry out the soil so underplanting in this sort of situation will need to include plants that can cope with dry shade. There are ferns and groundcover plants that are more than capable in this useful role.

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A good shady spot will be perfect for a fern, but not all of them can cope with dry shade. Shrubs and larger perennials can also create a healthy environment for other plants because they shade the soil and prevent a fair amount of surface water evaporation. A well-thought-out combination of shapes, habits and forms will help members of various plant families to look after others. We humans could learn a lot from this beneficial symbiotic relationship.

Changeable weather

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One thing is for certain. Weather changes! If it's dry when you are reading this, it will definitely be raining and pouring at a later date. So... catch that rain, we might need it later!

But guess what will happen at some point in the near future? There’s no prize for predicting that the skies will darken, the rain will come and probably continue for longer than most people would desire. Flooding often follows drought, and it’s not surprising. Water runs off parched soil before it has a chance to soak in. Ideally, this water would be channelled into somewhere other than mains drainage systems. Swales, ditches and rain gardens are ideal features to build into a landscape because we want to encourage water to hang around areas designed to entertain it. Feeding into local rivers is good, but if you can slow the water down before it arrives, more can be absorbed en-route.

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We have all heard horror stories about flooding and many of us have experienced it. Perhaps some trees would help. 

Lack of oxygen

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Water sitting on the soil can fill the spaces within the soil structure so that there's no room for oxygen. It’s inevitable that water congregates in lower areas and this soil will therefore stay wet for long periods of time. Many plants won’t be able to withstand the low levels of oxygen in the resulting soil with its water-filled pores. So, we desperately need plants that can not only live in waterlogged soils, but actually help alleviate flooding too.  

Trees that act as sump pumps

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Trees can help to deal with flood water. But which species can cope with being waterlogged?

A mature tree can take up to 100 gallons of water per day, thus effectively slowing down the deluge of water during heavy rainfall. How cool is that? It means that flooding can be alleviated if the path of the water passes through tree plantations – provided they are the ‘right’ sort of trees. Just like people, some trees can drown in a flood as many are unable to survive without oxygen. You only have to kill a house plant through a brief spell of over-watering to see what havoc root-rot causes. But other trees can be used effectively as ‘sump pumps’. They draw water from the soil up the trunk and excrete the excess gently through the leaves.

Which tree is the right tree?

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Some trees are more suited to a watery planting site than others. Alder and Birch are happy near water. Look along river banks and you will see what species are good at surviving there.There are others too, including cedar, swamp cypress, poplar, elder, hawthorn, some Prunus, Hornbeam, holly and even some Acers. There are effective shrubs that can cope with wet soil too, including Cornus sanguinea, Viburnum opulus, Amelanchier, Buddleja, Cotoneaster, and even bamboo. To give them the best chance, plant on a mound and add lots of organic matter to clay soils so that the air pores are encouraged to open.

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Buddleja are not only great plants for wet or dry soils but they produce wonderful flowers for insects too. If you plant intelligently you can ‘go with the flow’ and make the most of the British weather. Into the bargain you’ll cut down on your garden chores and reduce the burden on the mains water supply. What’s not to love about putting the right plant in the right place?  

Perfect Plants Ltd is an on-line supplier of garden plants, house plants, garden equipment, furniture and gifts for all seasons www.perfectplants.co.uk