Cold North-easterly winds have been a big problem over the last month, slowing growth and reducing yields.
Wind is a common enemy of the vertical gardener, growing on exposed balconies and roof terraces. It dries out leaves, batters and tears them, and makes the plant struggle to survive, let alone grow. Even light winds can decrease yields by up to 30%.
In the UK the prevailing winds are South-westerly in summer (warm and wet) and North-easterly in winter (cold and dry). It’s these dry, cold North-easterlys that are a real problem in April and May. Just as we’re trying to nurture young, tender plants to life, these persistent, icy winds batter and gnaw at their stems and shoots, slowing growth. They’re a real problem on my North West facing balcony, and I can’t wait to get the end of May when they tail off!
What can you do to protect your plants from the wind? Things you can try include:
1. Protect seedlings with improvised cloches – you can cover hoops with transparent plastic (I recently learnt a nifty way to do this and will blog about it soon) or use empty plastic drinks bottles – the large ones from water dispensers are ideal if you can get hold of them, but any will do (see photo below).
2. Construct some sort of wind break – this can be a very good solution if you can find a way to do it. The most effective windbreaks are about 50% permeable, allowing some wind to pass through. A completely solid windbreak will create destructive turbulence on the lee side, defeating their purpose. Good windbreak materials include rush matting, hessian sacking and debris netting – the type scaffolders use (effective but less pleasing on the eye). If you’ve got space you could also consider a living windbreak. The length of the shelter on the leeward side will be about three times the height of your windbreak – so a 1.5 metre high windbreak will shelter plants for 4.5 metres behind it.
3. Plant later! The other solution is to just wait a bit and plant out in late May when the North-easterlies have passed. For things like runner beans and climbing French beans – which get particularly clattered by the wind – I’m resorting to this solution this year.
I’d love to hear what others have tried and learnt.