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Hardy garden dos and don’ts from landscape architect Paul Sangha.
It’s finally sunny season again, and while we’re grateful that rainy days are (mostly) behind us, summer has its own set of challenges. Last year’s extreme heat waves across the West proved to be deadly for people, pets and plants—and while the first two are certainly priority number one, we’ve got your back on the latter. We chatted with Vancouver-based landscape architect Paul Sangha about the best ways to keep your garden safe during droughts and heat waves: here is his expert advice.
This is basic but important advice: you might fall in love with a plant for aesthetic reasons, but if it’s not built to withstand the climate you live in, it’s not a smart purchase. “We’re used to planting things that require lots of moisture, but with the chronic droughts we’re getting, we just don’t have enough water to sustain them,” says Sangha. The best way to find the right plants for your garden is to talk to an expert at your local garden centre, but in general, the designer recommends choosing hardy grasses or plants with smaller, thicker leaves (big, fleshy plants require more water). Honey locusts and Persian ironwoods are two of his go-to, hardy plants.
We’ve all felt the sweaty discomfort that comes from wearing a black shirt on a sunny day—and that same absorption of heat can effect your plants, too. “Black has become really popular in landscape design, but it won’t work if you’re trying to keep moisture in the soil: you are essentially cooking your plants in there,” says Sangha. Switch out your black planters for white or light-coloured vessels, which reflect heat and light rather than sucking it in.
When it comes to covering your soil, Sangha suggests using gravel instead of bark mulch in warmer climates. “Gravel is a decorative surface, but it’s also easier to maintain, and water moves easily through it,” says Sangha. The little rocks act as a barrier between the soil and the hot air, which helps to retain moisture.
It’s common to use plants as a decorative element around the perimeter of your home, but Sangha says to be careful just how tightly you pack them. “If the plants are hard up against buildings, you end up trapping heat,” says Sangha, “you have to allow for air movement.” Make sure to keep the plants surrounding your home trimmed back so air can move freely.
When you’re planning out your garden space, take a full day to note how the sun moves through your yard: which spots are shady, for how long, and which spots have full-on sunshine all day long. A spot that is shady in the morning might get scorched at 2:00 p.m., and in harsh climates, that can be devastating for your plants. “Strategically place your plants in a spot where they can get the ideal conditions,” says the designer.
READ MORE: 5 Large, Low-Maintenance Plants that Pack a Design Punch