Risks of Summer Gardening in Spain

If nature was in total control many gardens in Spain would return to desert especially during the hot dry summer months. But luckily there are many hard working conscientious amateur gardeners creating beautiful gardens were little existed before. However it’s impossible to have no summer failures and the cause is often that of the gardener and not by nature whether living on the Costa and up in an inland valley.

We therefore review some common way’s, many very easy , for killing off summer flowering plants. As you read through the list tick off those that sometimes apply to yourself. Then add up the number of ticks and read our observations at the end of this article.

Over Optimism

  1. Assuming that Spanish plants do not need watering as they are natural to Spain. This is incorrect. They do until they get their tap roots down which may take one or two years or more with slow growing plants.
  2. Delaying watering because a summer storm is forecast. Unfortunately they often pass by!

Forgetfulness/Poor Organisation

  1. Unclear agreement between self, partner and gardener as to who waters what, where and when.
  2. A failure to remember that you planted an expensive special plant in an out of the way part of the garden last week or perhaps last month and forgetting to water it or extend the drip watering system.
  3. With a busy social life you are not around to water in the cool of the late evening or up early enough in the morning to water before the temperature has soared.

Par Boiling Plant Foliage and Roots

  1. Watering in the midday sun rather than in the cool of late evening.
  2. Watering with scalding water from a hose that has been lying in the sun for most of the day. Always ensure that you run off the hot water onto a terrace before starting to water.


  1. Failure to water hanging baskets, containers and beds of annuals daily, even twice daily on the hottest days. Help yourself by planting in semi-shade and not in full sun.
  2. Letting newly purchased plants dry out before planting and then failing to water and nurse plants back to full strength before planting out.
  3. Shallow daily watering of instead of deep watering twice a week to reach the base of the root ball and tap roots.

Poor Planting In Pots/Containers

  1. Using a fast drying soil in containers/pots/raised beds rather than a water absorbing compost to which a small quantity of water retaining gel such as TeraCottem has been added.
  2. Use of thin walled terracotta pots that dry out very quickly by capillary action. Spend a little more and buy heavier thicker walled or sealed pots. Also ensure you use a drainage tray for retaining excess water.

Burning of Foliage or Roots.

  1. Watering non-acid (alkaline) loving plants with the acidic back wash of the swimming pool.
  2. Foliage feeding with over strength foliar fertilizer, especially when done in full sun and when the leaves are very dry.
  3. Over application of granular fertilizer especially around the trunk rather than around the natural rain drip line.
  4. Burning leaved plants by use of over strength insecticides, especially if applied in the middle of the day.
  5. Planting of plants with large gaps between so that the tops of their root balls roast in the sun and dry out quickly.

Failure to Mulch

  1. The failure to mulch young shrubs with compost, stones, chippings or rocks can result in the shallow rootball drying out before the permanent deep tap roots are established.
  2. The failure to mulch annuals with a water absorbing/retaining compost so that shallow roots dry out by midday when temperatures soar.

Poor Insect/Mildew Control

  1. Failure to spray preventatively, only taking action when plants are half dead already. For instance geraniums need to be sprayed two or three times a week from mid March to mid October to have a real chance of combating the African moth.
  2. Planting out seedlings/young plants, especially annuals and perennials and forgetting to apply a snail/slug repellent around the plants.
  3. Thinking about snails and slugs but forgetting about caterpillars. Some are very small but can be amazingly hungry. Young seedlings/plants can be destroyed overnight.
  4. Failure to watch out for and treat first signs of mildew, rust, scale etc.
  5. Failure to kill off ant’s nests in plant pots as soon as noticed or if seriously affected failing to immediately repot the plant in ant free soil.


  1. The failure to summer weed. Thirsty fast growing perennial weeds can soon smother and starve annuals and shallow rooted shrubs.
  2. The use of weed killer near to delicate plants.

Poor Choice of Plants.

  1. The purchase of varieties of plants inappropriate to your soil and microclimate.

So check back through the list and count the number of statements that you have ticked. Our observation on scores are as follows –

0 – 9 Trying hard, but being honest. Even the most dedicated of gardeners make mistakes or are forgetful at times.

9 – 18 More attentive summer gardening required.

19-27 The garden centres must love you!! Redesign the garden and perhaps employ a gardener.

We hope that our thoughts prevent at least some summer failures. But remember Murphy’s Law, here adopted "Nature watches continuously for the chance to prove that expatriate gardeners don’t understand the natural necessities of nature!"

Section 6.16 – Be a plant detective – of our book ‘Your garden in Spain – From planning to planting and maintenance’ includes a longer list of fifty reasons why plants can die in expatriates gardens in Spain. It’s worth reading to help you beat nature!.