Helping plants cope with the drought

By Richard Wright

Published on Friday, August 01, 2014 - 14:30


Helping plants cope with the drought

Broccoli growing in pots. Pictures by ROSEANNA WRIGHT


WEIRD, isn’t it? Seven months ago, the ground was like tapioca and we were trying to beat the great flood.

Now we are combating drought, trying to keep alive the plants which had a surfeit of water.

Daily trips to the allotment are needed but, even so, plants there are showing signs of distress as am I, over the amount of time it takes to water the plot each day.

It can be especially taxing for transplanted seedlings to get a start in drought conditions. One tactic I employ ever more frequently is to bring them on in the cosseted conditions of a pot of well-watered compost before they have to take their chance in the plot.

Leeks, if they are small, can find it difficult and I find bringing on a dozen or so in each nine inch pot has good results.

The larger the seedling and its root mass the less likely it is to succumb to drought. It is also beneficial when planting out leeks in their dibber holes to snip off the top growth enabling them to stand upright and not flop over.

Brassicas, too, if they are to be planted out in drought, stand the best chance if they are of reasonable size. That can be achieved in a pot of rich compost, where they will put on much more growth and be better placed to combat drought and the myriad of pests which they attract.

But leeks, broccoli, sprouts, cabbage and brukale — a cross between broccoli and curly kale, which I’m trying for the first time this year — are well worth the effort.

They provide welcome produce early next year when there isn’t much else about in the vegetable patch.

In the flower garden, there are several plants which will adequately resist drought.

To my mind the best among them are Delosperma, Veronica, Sempervivum and Osteospermum.

Delosperma Fire Spinner is a member of the Mesembryanthemum family and commonly known as hardy Ice Plants. These fleshy plants produce spreading mats of vibrant daisy blooms.

Veronica First Lady is a useful, clump-forming, drought-tolerant perennial, which produces mounds of glossy green leaves topped with short, thick spikes of bloom.

Sempervivum Capella is a superb evergreen perennial, which produces spreading mats of fleshy-leaved rosettes, in an array of attractive colours.

But, to my mind, the best, most vibrant drought beater of the lot is Osteospermum, in all its great variety of jolly colour.

Cemetery blooming with Whistling Jacks

WHISTLING Jacks have sprung up in Northwood Cemetery.

The cemetery is a beautiful haven for plants and Whistling Jack — I do not know where it got that name — was spotted by Bill Martin, who volunteers there with his wife.

Whistling Jack, Gladiolus communis, otherwise known as the Sword Lily, is found in the wild, mainly in the Isles of Scilly and in Cornwall, where it is a relic of the bulb fields which used to be there.

It only survives where there is no deep frost.

This vibrant plant’s survival is one of the advantages of our climate becoming generally milder.

Britain’s largest apricot grower

ONE shining example of our milder, generally drier, climate is the apricot.

Reports reach me of crops never being better despite a problematic chilly patch this spring just when pollination was taking place.

Stuart Pierce, who owns Farmer Jack’s, has embarked on an ambitious apricot adventure.

He is at the vanguard of British farmers cultivating this fantastic fruit.

It all started in 2009 when Stuart, from Godshill Fruits, a former pig farmer, turned to delicious IW cherries and then decided to have a go at growing apricots.

So he popped over to France for research and planted 5,000 trees of four apricot varieties as 'a bit of an experiment’ in the fertile soil in a sheltered spot in Adgestone. Five years on, he has grown sufficient varieties of apricots to sell commercially and brings the most delicious fruit to market.

However, growing them is not without pitfalls.

Stuart said: "Apricots are suitable for growing in the UK but the blossoms are vulnerable to early frost damage. Hopefully, I have sown the seeds to enable us to become the country’s first and biggest apricot supplier and we are now officially the biggest apricot grower in the UK.

"With six different varieties to choose from, including Tomcot, Pearlycot and Sunnycot, there is a variety to suite everyone."

Apricots are not only packed with vitamins and minerals, they are also extremely versatile in sweet and savoury dishes alike. Eaten 'au naturel’ for the perfect snack, they can also be pickled, poached or grilled.

They make a wonderful complement to game too and a tree may well find a place in my plot this autumn.

Stuart is also investigating a plumcot — a natural hybrid between plums and apricots.

Anger at allotments

UP AT the allotment the produce poachers are back, prompting angry reaction, appeals for vigilance and a rash of signs on allotment holders’ plots.

One at the front gate of Sandlands — since removed — warned the thieves that they would be poisoned by pesticides applied to some produce.

But there have been other, more subtle appeals.

One can only hope the thieves have a conscience and realise the upset they are causing.

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