How to achieve a low-maintenance planting scheme
Many people attribute the changeable weather conditions in the UK to climate change. Whatever the reason, it is clear that gardeners need to adapt. We can no longer assume that newly planted trees and shrubs will receive adequate water during the winter, for example. This means either lavishing more care and attention on plants than in the past, or choosing species that are more likely to cope with the changing conditions.
During dry weather and especially in a drought, many plants require supplementary watering unless they can cope with dry soil. This can become a maintenance issue, especially if there is a hosepipe ban. Wise gardeners who harvest rainwater fare rather better than others, but there is rarely enough to last the entire season.
Choosing drought-resistant planting is a sensible option for those who don't wish to water during the dry periods. It is possible to create a less labour-intensive garden by selecting plants that not only cope with, but prefer dry soils. Digging sand, gravel or substrate into a heavy soil will help to break up the clods and allow free-draining conditions which will enable planting of a wide and wonderful range of plants. Many perennials and shrubs with silvery foliage or leaves that are covered in tiny hairs tend to be drought tolerant and you only need to take a look at Mediterranean plants to see that their strategy is effective.
No plant, however, is likely to survive without some initital help, so even drought-tolerant plants will need care during their first few seasons.
Our pick of the best drought-resistant trees for UK gardens
You might already be famililiar with the sunny-yellow foliage of Gleditsia triancanthos 'Sunburst', but did you know there is also a green variety called G. 'Skyline'? These are graceful and attractive small trees providing appeal through different seasons. The yellow-leafed variety is known as the golden honey locust tree and it holds the RHS Award of Garden Merit. The small, pinnate leaves are yellow in spring and autumn, turning green in summer. These trees are well suited to sunny gardens and once established they are drought-tolerant. They even cope well with pollution. What's not to love about these bright and cheerful trees which are adaptable and fast growing? They can tolerate moderate soil salinity and even have fragrant blossom in late spring, followed by a flat pod-like fruit that has edible pulp inside.
Robinia is another sunny specimen species, with various cultivars providing different foliage shapes and colour tones. This is a fast-growing tree with green through to yellow leaves, which comprise pairs of oval leaflets. They flutter delightfully in the breeze. It produces clusters of drooping, scented white flowers, followed by linear pods containing seeds. It does well on poor soils in sunshine and it is drought-resistant, once established. It is often known as the black locust tree.
Pine trees including Pinus sylvestris
Pine trees grow well on light soils of low fertility and are very well suited to drier conditions. Their foliage, or needles, have a waxy coating and this cuts down on moisture loss. Pine are pioneer species that will colonise easily on acid soils and many different types are able to withstand a certain amount of drought, once established. They originate from upland locations where water runs away from the roots and their small leaves use water efficiently .
Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. niphophila
The Alpine gum or snow gum Eucalyptus is one of the hardiest species of this tree and able to survive in many parts of the UK. This drought-resistant species is well suited to coping with dry soils and hot weather. The waxy coating on the silvery leaves cuts down the amount of water evaporation and the trees also have the ability to shed mature leaves and twigs so that they lose less water. They are able to replace lost branches and leaves later because many of them have buds buried under the bark.
Ginkgo biloba, the maidenhair tree
This prehistoric species is large and deciduous, with unique, fan-shaped leaves that are pale green. It is tolerant of a wide range of soils, except wet, and is resistant to drought in addition to heat, pollution and even a certain amount of salt in the air. It has adapted to a changing climate over the course of more than 270 million years and is possibly one of the most resilient trees in the UK. This is a stunning tree with many ornamental benefits including golden yellow autumn colour.
Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer', ornamental pear tree
The Callery pear has glossy green leaves and an upright shape and it has proved to be an extremely tolerant tree, including for drought. It seems to be able to survive most conditions including severe cold, extreme heat, pollution and exposure to wind in addition to dry conditions.
Of course there are many other species of trees, shrubs, perennials and herbs that have adapted to dry conditions. Cistus varieties (rock rose), for example, is a sun-loving shrub that is able to thrive in poor soils and sunny conditions. Many of these originate from the Mediterranean or arid regions of the world and they have adapted to dry conditions.
Lavender hates to have its feet wet, and both rosemary and thyme love to be dry. Perovskia, or Russian sage, has that classic silvery foliage and stems which is a good indicator of drought-resistance as do both broom and gorse.
Contact English Woodlands for advice regarding the best trees and shrubs for your own project.