Spain’s and other Mediterranean gardens suffer from no rain

No rain on the Mediterranean Costas

Each time a  black cloud has appeared above our garden for the past five months it has just disappeared, except for one light shower, and we need to tour the garden daily to see which plant, if any, are under the degree of stress that warrants a watering.  To date it is the mainly the broad leaved salvias which we persevere with for their wonderful autumn displays. Luckily after years of coaching most roots now go deep and somehow find moisture under deep rocks and our strategy of planting close to create natural mulches has paid off.

The weather this year highlights the need to differentiate between  true Mediterranean gardens which suffer and survive the true regular and occasional climatic disasters of Mediterranean climate zones, and gardens planted in generally temperate climes where rainfall is more frequent and temperature variations not as abrupt.  In march I made a long train journey to visit friends and gardens from Spain to the UK Belgium  and France. Gardens in all places had suffered frost damage from our garden on the Costa Blanca to the Barcelona Botanical Garden, Paris gardens, the Mediterranean garden in Highgrove plus Wisley and Hillier gardenS in the UK and most in the South of France. At the time all situations were desperate for water and while in England a hosepipe ban was declared. But it did not last long and the new dry beds in Wisley and Hillier gardens will hardly be dry this summer. On the other hand Mediterranean gardeners are wondering whether the next rain will be in October which has occurred before.

Putting off new plantings

This is certainly a year for delaying the buying and planting of new plants and the planting out of plants raised from seeds and cuttings in the greenhouse until we have had a really heavy downpour for a couple of days.

Fruit trees establish themselves quickly with controlled watering, except in containers

When we planted a dozen new fruit trees during the winter we did not expect the dry late winter spring and early summer. Fortunately we planted them through holes in black plastic sheeting to control weeds and prevent moisture evaporation and they have done well on only five to ten litres of water a week. However our experimental fruit trees in containers have required watering every couple of days.

But olive trees are suffering

There have been times after winter rain when we have sunk above our boots in the red clay of our olive grove. But not this year and with no irrigation water supply nearby the soil is cracking. A great shame for at blossom time some of the olive trees were white , which was amazing considering the minute size of olive flowers, but now many fruits have fallen or dried up. The hoped for record olive oil year will not be.

Vegetables however need watering to germinate, grow and survive

Although most flowering plants and trees have survived with minimal watering vegetables have had to watered regularly. However to keep this down to a minimum vegetables other than fruit vegetables have been shaded for most of the day from the hot drying sun.

This years mini scale vegetable experiments are successful

Three years ago we set up a very productive vegetable garden on a three square metre first floor terrace to demonstrate the number of types of vegetables could be grown in small spaces with close plantings and the good yields that could be harvested. Photographs are included in the vegetable growing section of ‘Apartment Gardening Mediterranean Style’ to show the mix of window boxes hung on walls ,the growing table, a trough and assortment of medium sized pots that were used to grow 21 types of vegetables. This was then dismantled to set up the experimental six square metre ten-tub vegetable garden we now have surrounding the again closely  planted growing table. The yields from last summer to now have been amazing. Naturally the soil/compost mixes have been important.

Don’t forget summer sprayings of fruit trees

Whatever the weather honey fungus spores will be around, especially in areas of abandoned orchards. Also Mediterranean fruit flies are around and with little moisture around are likely to seek out the moisture inside ripening fruits as well as laying their eggs there. So do spray monthly with a cocktail of neem oil, propolis and an eco foliar feed in water. The latter will help the leaves that are stressed by the dry conditions especially after last winters frosts which damaged many citrus trees.

Don’t forget sulphur powder dustings

Ensure you dust grape vines, squash, courgette and melon plants with sulphur powder each fortnight to control mildew attacks.

Don’t over water reasonably drought resistant plants

From the number of recent emails about serious meally bug attacks many people are over watering plants such as citrus trees  bougainvilleas lantanas and hibiscus as an overcompensation for no rain. By the way each of our books includes sections on how to treat insect and fungal attacks ecolog¡cally.


(c) Dick Handscombe July 2012