Bad weather comes with the territory in my neck of the woods. Wind is the main protagonist, the pieces to camera filmed for our gardening videos almost always a rushed affair, snatched in the occasional lulls.
Coincidentally, as I sat down to write this article, a news story flashed up reminding me that October 15th is the anniversary of Britain’s infamous Great Storm of 1987, when more than plastic garden tables and chairs were upset! The storm registered hurricane-force gusts of up to 135 mph (217 km/h) which uprooted trees, crushed cars and ripped roofs from houses as if peeling open a tin of sardines.
Most storms here are a little less dramatic, though climate modelling suggests extreme weather events like this will become increasingly common and more pronounced in all parts of the world. So, here are a few tips to batten down the proverbial hatches in your garden.
1. Protect Your Garden from Gales and Gusts
When the weather forecast shows the isobars packed tight, you know it’s time to act! Begin preparing the garden by clearing away debris that’s liable to catch the wind and get airborne, potentially causing damage as it smashes into something else.
Remove safety netting and mats from trampolines – how many of these get flipped upside down every winter?! Tidy away old pots, canes, wooden planks – anything and everything that’s light enough to head skywards. Oh, and bring that flimsy patio set under cover too!
Anything that’s staying put needs to be properly secured into place. Bug hotels and birdboxes must be firmly wedged or screwed into position on a support that isn’t likely to get blown down. Make sure your greenhouse is windtight as any slight gap could cause panes to blow out or frames to warp.
Garden fleece, netting and other covers should be pegged or weighted down with meticulous attention to detail. It only takes one loose, flapping corner to serve as an entry point to wind and tear the whole lot up.
2. Prepare Plants for Strong Winds
Climbing plants should be securely tied at regular intervals to sturdy supports so wind can’t get any purchase on them. If severe wind is forecast and you are worried about climbers snapping, consider untying them from their supports and carefully laying them on the ground, out of harm’s way, until the storm has passed.
Incidentally, I find that teepee structures work best for climbing beans and vining tomatoes. Wind can more freely move around the cone structure, whereas rows of traditional ridge-supported beans catch the wind like a sail, making plants vulnerable to ripping, or the whole lot just blowing over.
You may be better off cutting back particularly lofty herbaceous perennials that are already done for the season. Most will be absolutely fine left to their own devices, but newly planted ornamentals that aren’t yet well-rooted may rock back and forth so much they loosen from the ground. If this happens go around and re-firm them into position as soon as possible. Other plants can be temporarily hemmed in using chicken wire or well-secured netting.
3. Make Overhanging Branches Safe
Since moving into our current home two years ago a dead apple tree hung precariously, like a sword of Damocles, over the greenhouse. The tree was in an impossibly tricky position, making its removal exceptionally difficult. In the end a combination of sacking laid over the glass and very targeted sawing, using with ropes to take the tension, resulted in the tree being removed without incident. The wood is now stacked up in an out-of-the-way corner of the garden, home to a myriad of bug life.
If branches overhang your greenhouse, cold frame, or any other vulnerable part of your garden, now might be a good time to prune them to reduce the risk of a sudden snap and crash. Regular winter pruning should take care of older or poorly positioned branches, so they never escalate to a hazard.
4. Planning for Wind-proofing
Consistently windy gardens like mine need a long-term plan. Permeable windbreaks reduce wind speed without creating unwanted eddies in the current. Hedges are the obvious solution here and will offer shelter and potentially food for wildlife too.
Simply planting crops at their correct spacings will help them grow more strongly, and so better cope with whatever’s thrown at them, whether it be bad weather, pests or diseases. There is strength in numbers, and blocks of plants often fare better than single plants left exposed and alone. Once you know your garden inside out you can also avoid planting the wrong plants in most exposed areas or where, say, the wind is funnelled between buildings.
The wind certainly keeps us on our toes doesn’t it! How do you prepare for windy weather? Tell us down below and let’s all keep our plants and gardens safe and sound this storm season.