Growing plants in dry, windy weather

It’s been an unusual spring, with very little rain and lots of strong winds, rising to amber alert (gale force) along the south east coast of the UK, an almost unheard of situation without lots of rain to accompany the gales.

All this can make it very difficult to keep seedlings alive – most seeds, no matter how tough they are before they germinate, produce extremely tender seedlings with stems that are both fragile and full of water which acts as a the carrier for all the nutrients provided by soil and light and the chemical ‘messages’ that instruct the seed how to grow. It’s a time when plants are very active, which is why they can be so easily damaged if any part of the miniature plant is squashed, torn or otherwise deformed.

One way that seedlings become deformed is wind damage. If the young plant is subject to hot dry wind on one side only, the cells on that side of the stem will become tougher and dryer. It’s the same principle as the one that makes trees produce more and bigger leaves on the lee side of a wind, but in a seedling the effect of desiccation on a stem can lead to uneven growth throughout the rest of the life of the plant, and that’s bad news if you are hoping to get a good crop from it. In extreme cases, the instructions being conveyed to the plant can fail to get through, leading to the plant failing to grow at all on that side, which causes collapse.

Obviously watering is important, but while many plants benefit from evening watering so they can take up as much of the liquid as possible and avoid being scorched by the heat of the sun on the water, some, like tomatoes, prefer to be watered early in the morning as they do not like spending a night with cool damp roots.

Windbreaks are valuable too, and putting up mesh or fleece to shelter plants from the effects of scouring hot dry winds will really benefit seedlings. Solid windbreaks can create funnel effects with the wind piling in over the top so they should be avoided (in gales they also fall down and flatten the plants behind them!)

Mulching is a great way to protect plants from desiccation – grass clippings laid between newly planted crops can hold down a lot of moisture and keep the soil soft enough for new plants to get their roots out easily. Don’t put grass right up against little plants though, as that can overheat them and cause them to die off – leave a couple of inches space around each seedling.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Blogger Joanna said...

I found mulching invaluable last year here in Latvia when we had record temperatures and rain only every week and a half, but boy when it rained it was heavy. I use last years straw as we have loads of it so it can be closer to plants, but I also used it as a bit of a windbreak along with twigs.

May 25, 2011 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Paul and Melanie said...

Oooh didn't know that about tomatoes liking to be watered in the morning... I always do them at night, I might change now... :)

May 25, 2011 at 11:43 PM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Joanna - I think mulching may be one of the best-kept secrets in growing crops! I wish we had loads of straw ...

May 31, 2011 at 3:53 AM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Paul and Melanie - it came as news to me too, but apparently the temperature change in temperate climates from day warmth to night chill can check the root growth of a tomato, so if they are constantly watered at night and chill down, they may be smaller and less productive than they could be. I thought it was worth swapping to morning watering ...!

May 31, 2011 at 3:54 AM  

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