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How To Plant For A Changing Climate

Published on July 14th 2020
A close up of a flower
If dealing with hungry pests, enthusiastic weeds and the unpredictable British weather wasn't hard enough, climate change means gardeners are going to have to contend with extreme temperatures, increased drought and flood risks and, sorry to say, more pests and diseases.
As well as ditching the petrol lawnmower, going peat-free and avoiding plastic and pesticides, we can also mitigate some of the effects of climate change through our planting schemes.

Right plant, right place

Before you hotfoot it to the nursery, remember to consider your soil type, how sheltered or exposed your garden is and the conditions that are likely to affect your region. If in doubt, check out this RHS report on how to garden in a changing climate, which goes into detail on how gardens in the West Country, Northern England and East Anglia will need to adapt.

Drought-tolerant plants

Europe just experienced the warmest winter on record, which was swiftly followed by a warm, dry spring. While the sunny weather no doubt helped many of us cope with the lockdown, its effects on our environment will be long-lasting. NASA predicts that Europe could be facing severe water woes come summer.
A close up of a flower

The Drought-Resistant Garden: Beth Chatto’s Legacy at RHS Hampton Court


The following are drought-tolerant plants with the Eden Project seal of approval. This means they've coped well with being subjected to harsh conditions, from extreme temperatures to prolonged exposure to hot and cold. This lot should be able to cope with the increase in lengthy periods without rain.

Planting for heavy rainfall

Interrupting these long, dry periods will be deluges of heavy rain, meaning an increased risk of flooding and nutrient-depleted soil. With this in mind, rain gardens could become more common and not just in high flood risk areas.
What is a rain garden? Simply put, a rain garden is a space that makes the most of the rain. As well as incorporating water butts, ponds and rain chains, the idea is to plant specifically with rainfall in mind.
For example, areas located underneath runoff points (eg, a roof) should contain plants that can withstand up to 48 hours of waterlogging, while drought-tolerant plants occupy the edges.
Bog-loving babes
Don't be a water waster, read our advice on how to hydrate your plants:

Plant for pollinators

It's not just us gardeners who will be battling with strong winds and mixed messages from the weather reporter. As flowering times shift, our pollinators will struggle to match their feeding times to the schedule they've known for millennia.
RHS scientists found that the variety and amount of flowers mattered more to pollinators than their origin. By planting a mixture of native and non-native plants, as well as a combination of bulbs, trees, annuals, perennials and shrubs, you're giving pollinators the best chance of finding a habitat and food source to keep them going.
Try to avoid double or multi petal flowers as these are no good for pollen-loving insects.
Native & non native allies

Planting for stormy weather

Along with more intense storms our gardens can expect more frequent batterings from stronger winds. As anyone who's had to shell out on a new fence panel or three knows, they don't hold up in storms well.
Alternatively, hedges (which allow the wind through) make great windbreaks. Swapping hard boundaries for strong trellis and climbers is also a good shout. In addition, consider planting petite species of tree that are less likely to be toppled by any great gusts.
Windbreak winners
Wonderful wall climbers
Note: The RHS tested ivy with a copper mesh border and found it to be effective at stopping those spreading tendrils getting out of control.

How to handle the heat

The most recent decades have been the hottest (between 1884 and 2018, the ten hottest years occurred in the previous 17) and that trend is set to continue. Whatsmore, no region is safe from increasing temps which will rise across all the seasons.
The upshot of this is that warmer autumn and spring times mean a longer growing season, which means more time for experimenting with edibles! So long as you time your planting right and mulch plenty, the following crops won't mind so much if you forget to water them or if there's a prolonged dry spell.
Newbie grower? Check out our tips on growing your own before you get started:
As temperatures increase, it's going to become harder to maintain green glossy lawns. As well as not mowing in hot weather (as longer blades provide shade), you could consider swapping out patches for shrubs or sedum mats (which are also great for green roofs).
If you don't have the space or the patience for trees, an attractive way to create shade is with vine plants such as a grape or climbing roses or you could consider some of the larger leafy plants below.
Has the climate crisis changed the way you garden? Let us know what changes you've noticed in the garden in recent years in the comments.

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