Gardening: Why our lawns could be a thing of the past

Potted geraniums can be left outside until the first frosts.
Potted geraniums can be left outside until the first frosts.

Most gardeners see on a daily basis that climate change is a fact of life but it appears it’s not going to be so grim up north, according to the Royal Horticultual Society’s (RHS) latest report.

Milder winters, drier springs and erratic weather patterns are going to change the way we all garden, the Gardening in a Changing Climate says.

Drought-tolerant alpines like Sempervivum offer an easy-care alternative to bedding.

Drought-tolerant alpines like Sempervivum offer an easy-care alternative to bedding.

If the projections are correct, the lawn could become a thing of the past, northern gardeners could enjoy a longer growing season but new pests and diseases could become established in our region.

The report, a collaboration between the RHS, academics from Sheffield, Reading and Coventry Universities and the Met Office, looks at the impact the increase in global temperatures is having on plants and gardeners. It is the first in-depth analysis of climate change on UK gardening since 2002.

Gardeners can expect more extreme weather, variable, intense rainfall, combined with an increase in dry summers.

If rainfall increases, traditional plants, such as tulips, Alliums and Asters may have to be planted in raised beds for better drainage and to lift their roots clear of the water table.

Canary Island palms will happily live outside all winter.

Canary Island palms will happily live outside all winter.

Gardeners experiencing higher temperatures may have turn to drought tolerant and heat loving plants, such as Aloe or lavender. Lawns may become a casualty, converted to dry meadows, as pressure on the water supplies increases.

A survey of more than 1,000 gardeners, which forms part of the report, provides a snapshot of how UK gardening is coping with a changing climate.

The survey found that:

l Only two per cent of gardeners feel that they have the knowledge to adapt to a changing climate.

l Approximately half have changed gardening practices and 79 per cent of people are paying more attention to the climate.

l Drought and waterlogging will become the most critical factors in determining plant survival.

l The introduction of new pests and diseases due was the greatest concern after drought and waterlogging.

RHS climate scientist and report co-author Dr Eleanor Webster said: “The threat to our gardens and green spaces from climate change is very real and is happening now.

“It is vitally important that gardeners have the information they will need to confront and adapt to the new challenges and that policy makers prioritise the importance of maintaining green spaces.”

In a foreword to the report Professor Dame Julia Slingo OBE, the former Met Office chief scientist said: “Our perspective on what a garden should be and what we might like to grow in it will have to change. The good news is that we now have a pretty fair idea, thanks to climate science, of what our future weather and climate might be like. That means that we can start to plan now for the changes we will need to introduce to our gardens.”


Thin out direct sowings of hardy annuals and vegetables, in two or three stages at fortnightly intervals.

Harden off tender plants by leaving them outside for increasing periods of time, building up to overnight exposure for at least a fortnight, then plant in permanent places when the risk of frost has passed.

Remove faded wallflowers and spring bedding, to make space for summer plantings.

Divide clumps of herbaceous perennials. Bamboos and clumps of bulbs or rhizomes can be divided in the same way.

Cutting back clumps of spring-flowering perennials such as Pulmonaria and Doronicum can encourage a fresh flush of foliage.

Lift and divide overcrowded clumps of daffodils after flowering. Deadhead tulips and daffodils. Apply a liquid fertiliser to spring bulbs after they have flowered, to encourage a good show next year. Allow the foliage to die down naturally.

Inspect lilies for red lily beetles – they’re extremely destructive and active now.

Sowing new lawns or over-seeding dead patches can still be carried out. Prepare the ground by cultivating, levelling and lightly firming. Do not walk on or mow newly-sown grass until it has reached a height of 2-3in, and then only give it a light trim.

Protect carrots with insect-proof mesh to prevent carrot root fly.

Liquid feed fruit trees growing in pots with a balanced feed every fortnight.


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