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Top tips for flood-proofing your garden

This winter, as gardeners will need no reminding, has been one of the wettest on record. Storm after storm has battered the UK over the course of the last few months. First we were hit by Storms Abigail and Desmond, then deluged by Eva. Now we can expect more heavy rain from the aftermath of the severe snow storm which hit the U.S. Eastern seaboard at the weekend. Gardeners may feel powerless in the face of nature’s wrath, but never the less there are certain things we can do to protect our gardens and plots from relentless wet weather. Here are Ladybrook Nursery’s top tips for flood-proofing your gardens.

Why is waterlogging so damaging for plants?

Waterlogging damages plants by cutting off the vital oxygen supply their roots need. Prolonged heavy rain will eventually drown plants.

What are the textbook signs of waterlogging?

Floodwater-damaged plants have yellowing leaves that drop off, stunted new growth and blackened roots that smell suspiciously like rotten eggs. Your garden doesn’t have to be submerged to be damaged irretrievably. The water table may still be high and capable of damaging your plants even if you can’t see standing water. To check the height of the water table quickly walk on your lawn. If it feels squelchy underfoot, then the water table is high and plant damage is likely, so action is needed.

Dealing with flood damage

  • Most plants will recovered quickly if their roots are only waterlogged for a week or so, though some may seem to recover quickly, only to die back unexpectedly due to root damage later on in the season. Herbaceous plants that grow roots quickly have a better chance of recovery than shrubs and trees which have slow-growing, woody roots. If you see standing water in your garden, then it’s wise to take precautions.
  • Take hardwood cuttings from shrubs like ribes, roses, forsythia, buddleia and viburnum as soon as the flooding has subsided. Take 15-30cm cuttings from the youngest stems, clipping off soft growing tips and cutting each one to just below a pair of buds at the base. Use hormone rooting powder and bury the cuttings two-thirds deep in gritty compost. After a few months the cuttings will hopefully have rooted. If your shrubs manage to survive the deluge, then your work will not be wasted as you will have increased your garden stock.
  • As soon as floodwater has subsided, lift sodden perennials. Slice off any damaged root stock and let the water drain away naturally. Then pot up the perennials in smaller pots with fresh compost. Keep these plants in an elevated section of the garden to avoid any further damage. Hopefully your ground plants will manage to survive the floodwater: if they don’t, at least you’ll know you’ve got back ups.
  • Floodwater unfortunately can contain often sewage. As unpleasant as this may sound, it is not really a problem for plants and gardens. You don’t have to go to the bother of disinfecting your garden as sunlight will naturally kill off any bacteria within a month. Disinfectants can also damage plants so they are best avoided. You can use these on paths and patios, but make sure any run off will not compromise your cherished borders.
  • Flooded vegetable patches are trickier to deal with. Floodwater containing contaminants can severely damage plants. The best advice is to salvage what you can, and make sure that any produce you may want to consume is thoroughly washed. Don’t consume any vegetable that you would eat raw, like winter salads. If in doubt, consult your local council’s environmental health department for further advice on whether the floodwater is polluted.

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