Weather-proof your garden

by frankbeswick

In times of climate change gardeners need to ensure that they have the best protection possible against excess water, wind and drought.

This year I had to repair my greenhouse. I was not present when the winds struck,in fact it is safer to be away from greenhouses when it is stormy, as glass can fly, with horrific consequences. No glass flew, but it cracked and broke, and as I have a cheap aluminium frame it buckled in one place. I spent some time repairing the glass, replacing windows and strengthening the frame. But there are issues with wind, drought and flood, all of which need to be protected against.

Picture courtesy of saradoow


I like where I garden. The soil is rich and deep,the ground is on the whole  not prone to flooding, and we are not too concerned with pests, except those greedy wood pigeons that eat your cabbages and cauliflowers, but nets can stop them. However, I have said before that I garden in a wind tunnel, as the wind funnels between rows of houses to rush over my unsheltered spot. I am not high up, only seventy feet above sea level, but there is no protection. So how do gardeners cope with wind? 

Well, ensure that your structures are well fastened together, fastened to the ground and safe. You also need to keep up regular maintenance.  The greenhouse is a case in point. I had no defence against a mini vortex that took out some panes recently, but the frame held well. Why did it hold? I have it bolted down onto paving slabs and I reinforce it with pink grip cement, which is a powerful bonding agent, and I used several tubes of it. 

You need to ensure that the frames are well fitted into place, so that none can be rattled by a strong wind. There is  also a good case for allowing wind an escape route. If you think that is going to get in, allow it a way out, for otherwise it will blow its way out of the confined structure. 

Poly-tunnels can be something of a lottery. I have seen some that stand up well against wind, but the cheaper, portable variety does not. I had one that was damaged by a storm,so I  decided to  fasten it down, lashing it to anchors with stout fastenings. The fastenings, though were too  strong, stronger than the light metal  frame, so they stayed firm, but the frame buckled. I had not factored that into the calculation.  With hindsight,my conclusion is that temporary structures might be  safer being taken down in Winter. 

You might think of wind breaks. Surprisingly, solid walls are not the best defences against wind, which is why walled gardens like Heligan used to have shelter belts of trees outside the walls. While a wall gives protection for  a distance up  to ten times its height,the wind is deflected upwards by the walls and then becomes turbulent, which can  cause some damage at times,particularly to roofs or tall trees. The ideal protection is a permeable  barrier that allows some wind through but slows it. This can be a mesh fence or a hedge. Fences of fine mesh slow wind down to forty per cent of its speed and therefore, as damage is caused by the fastest winds, they prevent much damage. Some of my fellow plotholders surround their greenhouses with mesh or mats for about half the greenhouse height to prevent damage.

But thick hedges,maybe of privet,can be a great defence. These do not need to be high, in fact there can be lines of small  hedges built at intervals through the garden, sometimes surrounding larger beds. Box is a great shrub for this purpose, but there is a bit of a problem that even hit Longmeadow,the garden tended by the renowned gardener and tv presenter Monty Don. The disease is box blight, a fungal disease that is invariably fatal and which results in the plant having to be pulled up and burned. 



Protecting trees

Young trees survive in nature,often despite it. It is not widely known that nature wastes many a young tree, as it is trampled by animals, ring barked by deer or shaded out by other trees,so various  forms of cultivation [horticulture, agriculture, arboriculture] are often the saviours of many a plant. As serious threat to young trees is wind, which can rock the tree so  badly young and tender roots are damaged or destroyed. Young trees have shallow,immature and underdeveloped roots and so they can be ripped out by wind. In the forest many survive by being sheltered by the massive bulk of the wood, but there are still fatalities in the Autumn and Winter storms.

Critically important for young trees are tree stakes, one of which is shown in the thumbnail above. It is not the best planted stake, as ideally stakes should be angled at 45 degrees and staked well down on the side of the prevailing wind, so that they divert wind from the plant.In some areas it might be necessary for a tree to have more than one stake. Stakes should be firmly fixed and the area of soil  filling the planting pit should be well trodden down to prevent air pockets developing round the roots, which are not good for plants because roots feed from contact with soil.

Yet other protections are needed. If you dwell in areas where there are deer you need to prevent ring barking, which is when the deer strip the bark from the tree, which kills it as the nutrients flow down from the leaves just under the bark. It is usually important to protect all young trees, but in certain areas where deer descend from the hills in Winter,the situation becomes urgent. The protection can be either a spiral guard, an expandable strip of plastic round the trunk, or a wooden palisade around the whole  tree. Sometimes rabbits can get under the palisade and nibble, so both a spiral guard and a palisade are useful.  

Yet large trees sometimes need trimming for protection. A problem can arise  when a tall tree has thick branches, a very strong wind can work on the higher branches and rip up the tree. It fist begins to spin and then as the roots tear it is torn from the ground. If you want to keep your tall trees, then get them pruned. But a word of advice: use a tree surgeon. I  would, for although I have cut down small trees, I know my limitations. I have not the ropes for  high work, or the experience for it. Play safe.   

Flooding Problems.

I am fortunate that I have not suffered  a flood, but flooding can be serious,and so I cannot sit back and feel secure that my plot will never be flooded. In my low-lying region of Britain we are prone to floods, and some allotments in my borough were flooded.  In Britain's storms this winter a walled garden several hundred years old on the beautiful Isle of Anglesey, off North Wales was flooded; and the water,with not enough space to flow  away,worked its own way out, taking with it a two hundred year old wall and a significant number of plants, leaving the owner with a big repair and restoration job. Yet low-lying regions are not the only vulnerable areas, as we saw in Britain where in the Winter of 2015-2016  the mountainous district of Cumbria was hit by major flooding, as water surged down from the hills after massive storms, sweeping much away with it,including important road routes. In this situation gardens were just one sort of victim. 

There is no easy answer to this problem, but gardeners can do something. Raised beds are very useful in dealing with small floods, though water of more than a metre, which we have had in some flooded parts of Britain, are too much for even raised beds. 

A flood cannot be dealt with by a gardener working alone, all you can do is work along with the authorities. However, it is useful to build structures that prevent water from becoming trapped, so designing a garden with an exit for water is always a good idea. In one way a dry stone wall [composed of stones laid one on top of the other, as is used in Northern England, is superior to a brick wall, as it allows water to drain through it rather than getting trapped.   

If there is a natural slope to your ground you can consider using it to lead the water away. If you have a stream running through or alongside your garden,you can ensure that water has a way to flow into it rather than be trapped. Furthermore, it is a good idea to make sure that any stream or drain is clear of blockages so that water cannot pool up behind them and spill over across the garden




Drought is a serious problem in some parts of the world, especially as climate changes, temperatures rise and some areas scorch. Even in my own country of Britain, renowned for its rainy weather,there are periods now where water is short. In fact climate change is predicted to cause dry summers in South East Britain, which is happening. 

So how do you cope with dry conditions? By rain water harvesting, that is one way. During the rainy winter ensure that you have water butts around the garden. I have two large ones, but I also use empty containers of pelleted chicken manure. I place one near each bed and let it harvest rain. Even though the water in them is a bit mucky, as dust drops in, the plants don't mind, as what is muck to you is food to them. Some gardeners have guttering which directs water from their greenhouse roof to the water butts.  

Yet saving soil moisture is essential. This can be done by mulching. A mulch is any cover that you place on the surface. A mulch of compost, leaves or leaf mold will hold moisture under it, as it prevents evaporation in hot weather. 

Yet carefully targeting watering is a good way to protect your plants. I do not like to  spray the leaves when watering in hot weather, it is much more productive to direct the water to the roots of the plant, which can be done by aiming the hose at the base of the stem. Not only does this mean that water is prevented from disappearing directly by evaporation, but it prevents the moisture build up on leaves that can aid the growth of  fungal pathogens. One technique that can be well used with raised beds and with trees that you have planted is to have pipes going down into the ground, so that water is  directly aimed  at the root zone of the plants. A few years ago I did some work as an exam invigilator at a plumbing training centre, where I asked the manager to let me have the discarded cut down plastic drain pipes on which the trainees  practised. He agreed, and I used them in the raised beds to  send water down to the roots. This is a technique that is good for carrots in particular, as carrots grow long by having their roots extend to seek water. So if you water them from the surface, they don't extend and become short and stubby. 


Gardening is a  way of life in which no year is the same as the other. There  are now challenges to be met as the years pass. I have noticed that the weather is becoming less predictable than it used to be, and now we are getting drier springs than we had in previous years. The winters though are stormier, but we know not when  and where the flooding will strike. All that we gardeners can do is prepare in advance for as many eventualities as you can, and then react skilfully and wisely when a problem strikes.   

Updated: 03/21/2016, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 03/26/2016

Vermiculite is well-known for retaining and slowly releasing water, though I don't really need it at the moment. I last used it a long time ago.

That your egg plants burned is astounding, for they are warm weather plants. Where I am, an egg plant is unlikely to burn, so you certainly garden in climes warmer than I do. We rarely reach the upper nineties. Today I tolerated the gusting wind and not very warm temperature, but went home when the rain started. But that's England!

blackspanielgallery on 03/26/2016

Frank, you covered much here. This is important to anyone who gardens. I have had problems with heat causing eggplants to burn. It really gets hot here, and upper 90s is quite common. As for drought watering helps, but have you tried vermiculite? It is supposed to hold water. Years ago I bought a bag for my very small garden. Did it help? Our humidity is so high here I do not really know, but I did better with it than when I did not buy any. It traps and slowly releases water or so was the claim. I learned about it from a tv gardening show, but it is not well known.

frankbeswick on 03/23/2016

As I travel across the flattest part of the Fens there are points on the route when you can see no hills on the horizon, it is so flat. That's strange to one who comes from Northern England, where there are often hills on the near horizon. But you can see why shelter is needed there.

My train route to Cambridge takes me across The Ouse Washes, between the towns of March and Ely, where in Winter the land is allowed to flood to prevent flooding in the nearby towns.The train runs on a raised embankment and you see flooded land on both sides. You feel as if raw nature is very close to you.

Gardening in that region has advantages, as the soil is good and the climate is in Summer warm, but it can be cold in Winter. When in Cambridge I was speaking to a gardener whose sweet corn was two weeks ahead of mine, as I am about a hundred miles north of where he gardens.

dustytoes on 03/22/2016

Frank, that is so interesting.

frankbeswick on 03/22/2016

Having tall trees is a good idea. When travelling down from Manchester to Cambridge in Eastern England I have to cross the Fens, flat lands reclaimed from the sea in the eighteenth century. The wind on the East of England can come down from Scandinavia and Russia, so on the flat lands of that part of the East it there is no natural shelter. So I see that some farms have large stands of trees around them to shield them from the wind.

My wife's uncle, whose farm is on the plains of Mayo in the West of Ireland, has done the same with his farmhouse, there is a large stand of trees to protect against the Atlantic wind, but inside the sheltered zone he has an apple orchard.

dustytoes on 03/22/2016

You are absolutely right in saying that no year is the same as another when it comes to weather and gardening. I have a lot of tall trees that protect my garden from wind, but the trees can sometimes fall with a big wind. My garden has very good drainage so flooding is not an issue. These are good solutions that you mention. I like the idea of pipes to direct the water down to the roots.

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