Watering can in the rain

Gardening tips for mild and wet weather

It seems to be unending! Yes, this often unusually mild and worryingly wet weather is having an impact on most of us, and our gardens aren’t too impressed either! So with conditions as they are right now what should and shouldn’t you be doing?

Now, before I get going, I want to be clear about one thing – just because it is wet, it doesn’t mean that you can forget about your garden (not that you’d want to, I’m sure), it’s just a case of slightly altering what you do and how you do it. There’s still lots to do, and plans to make too.


No to the mow

Let’s start with lawns (and any other maintained grassy area come to that). It has been pretty mild, so there has been significant grass growth in many gardens, and for many, that means ‘grab your mower and get going!’ No. Time to relax. Mowing when the soil is wet can do a lot of damage, especially if you have a fair amount of clay in your soil. I’m on heavy clay and I know all too well that I need to keep everyone and everything off the grass right now, and that includes the mower. If you mow now, you’re likely to cause smearing on the surface and compaction … and that means poor aeration, so the grasses won’t grow so strongly and may even deteriorate … and slow-growing sickly lawns are more easily colonised by weeds, and are more susceptible to disease. Drainage will be impeded further too – I have puddles on the grass in places, and I certainly don’t want swimming pools! Just let it grow a little longer than you might usually do and meanwhile I’d suggest buying some spring lawn fertiliser, as when things do improve, your lawn will benefit from some extra TLC.


Waterlogged garden lawn


Seed sowing features high on the list of gardening activities for this time of year, but again, think before you sow seeds direct into your garden. If the soil is really wet still, there’s an increased risk of seeds failing to germinate, so delay a little longer. The dates on seed packets are there for a guide, and a dose of common sense is needed too!  If it has got so late that I just can’t delay any longer, I often cover the soil with polythene, raised just above the surface (or I often use polythene covered pull-out tunnel cloches) for a week or two before sowing, that way continuing downpours have less of an impact, and the soil can dry out a bit. Then, when you have sown seeds, if there’s still more rain, cover the rows with poly-covered pull-out tunnels again. There’s an added benefit here too, as conditions will also be slightly warmer, so speeding up germination. Where possible, you could also sow seed in cells or similar, then transplant the seedlings when large enough to handle safely and the ground isn’t quite so wet.

Think outside the box a bit too, and sow some new varieties, perhaps some more tender flowers and vegetables in pots, cells or trays in the protection of your greenhouse, porch or well-lit windowsill, or in a propagator if extra warmth is needed.

Seed potatoes, onion sets and garlic planting may also need a different approach. In January I always plant up a few potato bags and grow them in my unheated greenhouse for an extra early crop, but this year I may well have to do the same with a few more bags now, because the soil is too wet still, these extra bags will be my second batch of deliciousness. I’ll also be delaying planting most of them, just until the soil is in a better state. Some people suggest planting onion sets and garlic in pots and cells, but I never find it works so well, so I suggest pre-covering the soil and then planting out as soon as possible. For garlic, I just create a ridge of soil, about 10cm tall and plant the individual cloves along the top, it works a dream.


Walk the plank

Whether it is your veg plot or flower beds and borders, if the soil is wet, and especially if it is a heavy or clay type, and you do need immediate access to it, then always use a plank – standing on a plank will spread the weight and so dramatically reduce compaction. This is perfect if you’re trying to keep on top of weeding, something I’d definitely recommend as many are growing extra fast right now and some will, no doubt, soon be setting seed if left! I’d also advise using a board when you’re planting any new trees, shrubs, climbers or flowers. There are some gorgeous plants available at this time of year, and it’d be a real shame not to treat yourself!

Tubs and planters on terraces and patios certainly won’t need watering, but check that they’re not becoming waterlogged. This easily happens if drainage holes have become blocked, so take a look, clear any blockages with a stick and then stand the containers on pot feet or similar for at least the next few weeks. And whilst on the subject of containers, they make great places to garden when conditions are wet – treat yourself to a few new pots and plant up with something to lift your spirits. Don’t forget that many summer flowering bulbs would also make a great addition to existing containers, or look splendid on their own, and these can be planted now. If you want some to go into beds and borders now, then either add a generous helping of horticultural grit to each planting hole or alternatively plant them into those mesh-baskets (often sold as bulb planting or pond baskets) or individual pots, and place these in a rain-sheltered spot outside before planting into your flower bed when conditions improve.

So, it may be wet, wet, wet, but you can still keep gardening and meanwhile don’t forget that all this rain is a vital resource and so collect all you can in water butts, ready for the drier weather ahead! Have fun!


About the Author

Pippa Greenwood

Pippa Greenwood is a TV and Radio Gardening expert with a passion for "grow your own".

She originally trained as a botanist at Durham University, before joining The Royal Horticultural Society's Garden at Wisley in Surrey, where she ran the Plant Pathology Department, answering several thousand queries from gardeners every year.

Since 1988, Pippa has appeared on a number of progammes, including BBC 2's Gardeners' World, and is a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time.

Most recently she has launched her "Grow your own with Pippa Greenwood" service, and is the Horticulture Manager at the HTA (Horticultural Trades Association). 





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