THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN SEPTEMBER
Well wasn’t it a scorcher! We have been inundated with details of records broken and dire warnings that this is likely to be repeated more often in the future as if this was a new situation. Old weather watchers like me remember the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report as far back as 1990; this created many more study groups who reported regularly with updates. For us gardeners our input came from the Royal Horticultural Society and they published Gardening in a Changing Climate in 2002, this was updated in 2017 (www.rhs.org.uk). These reports all agreed on one thing, our climate is changing and here in the South we will see more extremes of weather with higher temperatures and very dry conditions likely in the summer, an overall drop in annual rainfall levels, but when it rains it is more likely to be in huge amounts in a short space of time.
But our problems are not over yet even if we are now having periods of rain. A lot of our water supply is pumped from chalk aquifers deep beneath the North Downs and they are now at a critically low level having started the season below their maximum capacity. It is going to take a very long time for rain to wet the overlaying clay soil and then, very slowly, percolate through the chalk to the aquifers below. We need a higher than average winter rainfall if we are to avoid earlier restrictions next year. The message for us gardeners is to continue to be frugal with our use of water, buy and install water storage like big water butts connected to your downpipes; use much more organic matter both in the soil and on the surface as a mulch that will help to keep the moisture in the soil. If you have a lot of planted containers, put away the hosepipe and put a drip feed irrigation system, with a timer, on your Christmas list!
Many garden plants are still showing the results of a hot dry summer, we are seeing early leaf fall on our trees and some large shrubs. This does not necessarily mean they have died; it is very likely that they will recover and be as good as new next year. Be patient, hold off with those loppers and saws, all may not be lost!
By now our sunburnt grass should be starting to recover. There will be some bare patches where the annual, and more shallow rooted, grasses have died out. Now is the time to repair them by sowing grass seed. Scratch up those bare patches thoroughly, remove the dead grass, sow the seed, rake it in gently, firm it down and with a small amount of moisture you will see the grass germinate in about 14 days. When buying grass seed choose a mixture containing the dwarf Ryegrasses and Fescues; they are very hard wearing and deeper rooting, more likely to survive in hot dry conditions.