Helping plants cope with stress


August can be a stressful month for plants. First there are those ferocious August winds that desiccate tender new shoots as soon as they appear. Then, in colder areas, there are persistent frosts that cut back tentative new growth as it’s trying to unfold. Late winter rains often saturate the soil, which can sometimes cause roots to die from sheer, water-soaked misery. But you can take some steps that will help.

In cold areas, resist the temptation for now to trim off frost-blackened stems. These provide useful protection for the undamaged leaves below them.

If plants have died recently, try to work out what’s gone wrong. Has it been too cold for them? Have they suffered from wet feet? At the opposite end of the seasons, at the end of summer, do the same thing by checking which plants have suffered from the heat. Resolve to change conditions so that replacement plants will survive, or look for hardier plants that can cope with the harsh conditions.

Remember, too, to follow sensible practices such as building raised-up beds where drainage is poor, and incorporating Yates Lime or gypsum into clay soils. Plant out marginally cold-sensitive specimens in spring so that they can establish themselves as much as possible before the arrival of the next winter.

Yates Garden Guide has a handy chapter entitled Plants for Special Conditions which contains lists and brief descriptions of plants that are suitable for a range of tricky situations. By using such guidelines and by choosing carefully, you can minimise the risk of plant losses. Here are some of its suggestions:

For Seaside Gardens

Shrubs such as lavender, teucrium and westringia have hairy-coated leaves that protect them from the worst of the salt spray. Then there are the various native coprosmas – ranging from grounds covers to medium shrubs – that have evolved in coastal conditions. They rely on their shiny leaves to repel salt.

For Shady Gardens

Foliage plants, like ferns, are the best to choose for shaded situations. Having said that, clivias bloom well in light shade, as do camellias, impatiens and many of the plectranthus species.

In frost-free climates you can choose some of the popular and hardy indoor plants (like philodendrons) for heavily shaded positions. When planting in the shade of large trees, watch out for water-absorbing tree roots. Sometimes you’ll have more success with containerised plants in these situations.

For Wet/Boggy Soil

Clumping plants like sedges and rushes are happy in damp soil. It’s surprising, too, how many trees and shrubs have evolved in streamside positions and will cope with wet roots. Nyssas and alders are good examples.

One of the most dramatic-looking streamside plants for larger gardens is gunnera (pictured). Its huge leaves, with their prickly undersides, look like they belong to some kind of mutant rhubarb.


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