THE WEATHER IN THE UK FOR THE LAST FEW WEEKS HAS BEEN CHANGEABLE TO SAY THE LEAST! ONE MINUTE WE’RE BASKING IN SUNSHINE AND CRACKING OUT THE OLD FLIP FLOPS, THE NEXT WE’RE REACHING FOR OUR WELLINGTON BOOTS AND STICKING THE HEATING ON. WE’RE NOT THE ONLY ONES WHO ARE STRESSED OUT BY IT EITHER—OUR PLANTS CAN ALSO BE ADVERSELY AFFECTED BY EXTREME WEATHER CONDITIONS THAT GO OUTSIDE OF NORMAL RANGES, AS WITH AN OVERLY HOT AND DRY JULY FOLLOWED BY AN OVERLY COOL AND WET AUGUST.
Protecting plants from weather variations is usually possible, though, with a bit of know-how.
PROTECTING CROPS FROM COLD, WET WEATHER
Colder-than-usual temperatures can wreak havoc for crops as they try to produce fruit and vegetables. Unexpected cooler temperatures of even as much as 10˚C, if prolonged, can decrease the ability of plant roots to function properly, making it difficult for them to take up vital nutrients and impacting their health for the worse. Other problems arise when soil is overly wet for too long. Plants can become waterlogged and display wilting, yellowing or curling leaves as a result or they can become subject to fungal infections, such as grey mould. So, here are some tips for avoiding these issues with your homegrown produce.
Bulbous crops, such as onions, leeks and shallots, will be among the worst affected by a damp August, since they prefer a wet spring to swell their bulbs, followed by a hot, dry summer to ripen them. Yet, there is an easy solution: simply loosen and lift the bulbs slightly above the surface of your soil using a garden fork. This prevents them from being constantly moist and will ensure a better crop.
Carrots and parsnips, too, may be suffering with the change in weather. These vegetables love a light, well-drained soil in warm, dry conditions, with optimum temperatures for root growth being between 15˚C and 18˚C. Help them along a bit by mulching and covering plants with cloches to help keep soil temperatures up and aid root development.
Crops prone to fungal infection
Courgettes, cucumber, tomatoes and blackberries can all be affected by grey mould when conditions are unusually wet and humid. It is easily identified by fuzzy grey-brown growths on decaying plant matter. Mould spores enter the plant via damaged spots or flowers and quickly take hold when conditions are hot and humid.
To solve the problem, first begin by increasing ventilation around plants where possible—for example, if growing tomatoes in containers, increase the space between the pots. This will help to reduce the amount of humidity in the plant’s immediate vicinity making conditions less favourable to mould growth. Second, remove damaged plant parts (ideally before they become infected) and clear away plant debris that may have collected around crops. This is especially important when growing under glass, where mould spores are retained around plants for longer.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Any legume varieties—that is, peas and beans—that you’ve managed to nurse through the scorching June and July heat will be going crackers for this fortuitous change in weather, which is now giving them exactly what they need. You can now sit back and relax while this legume-friendly cool, damp weather works wonders for these vegetables.
Ensuring adequate watering
Don’t just assume that your plants are adequately watered, however, now that weather is damper. It’s still quite humid across the UK and, under these conditions, rainfall can evaporate off the surface of the soil without penetrating down to plant roots. Yet, as we’ve seen, over-watering can also be a problem so watering when you don’t need to is unlikely to be good for your plants. Instead, check the moisture-level of soil to determine whether you need to water. Check borders by digging down into soil with a spade and checking the colouration and consistency of soil beneath the surface, or do it by feel. For pots and window boxes, push a finger down into the soil up to your knuckle to test whether soil feels damp. Alternatively, you can buy inexpensive moisture sensors online or at the garden centre, which push into soil and tell you whether it is moist beneath the surface. This is a great way to do it if you’re keen to avoid muddy fingernails!
When you find that your plants need a drink, employ good watering practices by watering early in the morning or late at night and aiming water at roots whilst avoiding foliage. If you’re looking for a convenient and easily manoeuvrable option, I simply can’t recommend the expandable YOYO hose enough. It makes watering effortless.