How to help your garden recover after a heatwave

on 27th July 2022

Even the sun worshippers among us can agree that the scorching temperatures of the recent heatwave had us heading indoors and to the respite of the shade.

Unfortunately, many of our garden plants couldn’t take the same evasive action and have suffered since. But don’t worry, most are resilient and will recover if provided with a little after sun care.

Here is our guide to how to help your plants recover from a heatwave. As well as a few tips for preparing for the next time!

1. Take stock of the damage

First, it’s the painful task of surveying damage to the gardens and carrying out swift remedial action to those that need immediate help.

Anything in a pot with limited access to water is likely to need your attention first. Check pots, containers, window boxes, grow bags. Before moving on to your border plants, shrubs and trees.

Signs of a plant under drought stress include:

  • Wilted and curled leaves
  • Discoloured, yellowing leaves
  • Burning or scorching on edges of leaves
  • Falling flower buds
  • Dropped foliage

2. Administer a long cold drink

Next is to give them what they want and that’s water.

Pots first

Small pots can be dropped into a bucket or trug full of water for an hour or two, before removing and allowing to drain. This will completely resoak the root ball, allowing you to resume topping up levels with your normal watering regime.

Larger pots and containers will need a good long watering to ensuring the water penetrates down through the soil to the roots. To maintain good water levels in your pots, remember that a deep water once or twice a week is better than short sharp sprinkles delivered every day.

If the hot weather is persisting, it’s a good idea to move your pots into shaded areas of the garden. This will provide protection against scorching and drying out.

Newly planted trees and shrubs next

Once you’ve dealt with your pots move your attention onto anything planted within the last couple of years. The reason being is that their root systems won’t have developed to the same extent as more mature plants. This leaves them vulnerable in dry spells as they struggle to reach water reserves deep in the soil.

Don’t be deceived that they may look ‘ok’ now. Without access to water, they could start showing signs of being in trouble in the next few months. For these plants, it’s perfectly ok to give them a drink using ‘grey water’ from the bathtub or paddling pool.

Avoid pruning off any sun-damaged growth. This could stimulate new growth, which will be tender and likely to get annihilated if we get another hot spell this summer. Wait and follow normal pruning practice for that particular plant. In most cases this usually takes place over the cooler months of autumn and winter when dormancy kicks in.

Then your flower beds and borders

Next up are your borders. Again, a good soaking here will help plants looking a little limp recover back to their normal selves.

Here it is ok to give flowers a bit of a deadhead, especially those that need this to help them repeat flower through the rest of the season.

Any casualties that have taken the brunt of the heat and died, will need removing and could be replaced with something that’s more drought tolerant.

Finally, your lawn

Something to remember here is that your lawn grass is pretty tough and will recover when we do get some rain.

So before turning on the sprinkler think about whether it’s a good idea. If we’re having a heatwave, it’s likely to be followed by a period of drought and hosepipe bans. Any watering done now is essentially going to go to waste. Which isn’t great when we all need to do our bit to help conserve supplies.

The best thing for your lawn during periods of hot weather is to leave it alone. Don’t mow it – leaving grass longer will help it cope with drought. And don’t fertilise it – this will encourage growth which creates extra demand for water.

Don’t worry, it’s going to look horrible for a while, but over autumn you can give it some TLC to return it to its former glory.

3. Be prepared for the next heatwave

Having assessed the damage from this heatwave, you’re likely to have a good idea of which bits of your garden are going to need the most protection from future periods of high heat.

  • Plant for shade. You’ll have probably discovered that some seating areas and patios are too hot or too exposed to the scorching rays of the sun. Adding planting will help to cool down the area, provide shade and give you somewhere that you and your pets can retreat to from the heat. Don’t forget that adding greenery close to your home can also help to cool down the indoor temperatures by creating shade for sunny windows and patio doors.
  • Add water features. Just the sound of water can help to make you feel cooler. Adding a water feature into your garden, can help you to relax when temperatures soar. Creating a pond is another good idea as even a small one helps to make a cooler microclimate and provides an essential water supply for garden wildlife.
  • Reduce your containers and pots. This might not be possible if you’re got a small space or gardening on a balcony. But if space allows, try and put your plants in the ground rather than a pot. This way their roots can spread and find the water they need. Or switch from small pots that dry out quickly to larger ones. Not only is this more practical, but a larger pot planted with several plants will look a lot more impressive. (Plus think of all that time you’ll save on watering!).
  • Convert areas of lawn. If you’re fed up with looking at dried patches of lawn, then you could consider turning all or part of your lawn into something more eye catching. Perhaps a new patio area covered with a pergola for shade. A gravel garden which will flourish in the heat. Or a wildlife pond.
  • Add some drought tolerant plants. You’ll have noticed which plants don’t cope well in the heat. So it could be time to consider replacing these with drought tolerant species which have evolved to cope with high temperatures. These often have silvery leaves to reflect sunlight (lavender and rosemary). Or have plump water storing leaves like succulents. Or leathery leaves that help to slow down water loss. We’ve listed our top ten drought tolerant plants here
  • Start capturing water. If hot weather becomes more common in summer, then so does the likelihood of hosepipe bans. Installing rainwater butts to downpipes will help you save this precious resource and ensure you’ve got supplies to keep your garden growing. For more tips, you can read our blog on saving water in your garden
  • Improve your soil. The better condition your soil is in the better it is at retaining water during dry spells. Add as much organic matter to your soil – a good mulch in early spring is best. Add good quality (homemade if possible) compost to your beds and borders, around the base of trees and on top of soil in pots. This will not only improve your soil (and your plants) but will help to trap moisture in the soil.
  • Look after your wildlife. It’s not just your plants that are parched during hot spells. You might not always see them, but your garden is home to many beneficial creatures. Bees, birds, butterflies, hoverflies, beetles, spiders and hedgehogs. All these are going to struggle to find water during prolonged dry spells. A wildlife pond is great for providing a water source. Failing that a shallow dish with water and a few pebbles will allow them to have a much-needed drink. Remember to keep topping this up as the water will evaporate surprisingly quickly during sunny weather.

If you’re after more advice and help with creating a garden can still be enjoyed in the heat and with planting that thrives in the sun, feel free to get in touch. We work with both homes and businesses in the Thames Valley, creating practical and beautiful outdoor spaces.

How to help your garden recover after a heatwave

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