Creating a weather-resistant garden

Create a garden that will stand up to the elements and make you proud

Providing gardening advice for really tricky situations sometimes comes back to bite you on the backside.

I advised my aunt, who lives in coastal Northland, to plant leucadendrons in a particularly exposed garden border. A year later, she chastised me, saying, “I’ve planted three lots and they’ve all died!” I retorted, “Well, I’m terribly sorry, but they’re some of the toughest plants around and should have survived. Are you sure you didn’t kill them with fertiliser?”

The moral of the story is that sometimes you have to go the extra mile to ensure a plant survives in extreme circumstances. It wasn’t that the leucadendrons couldn’t survive the wind, more that their immature root system wasn’t strong enough to hold the plant in the ground during a ferocious easterly storm.

The next lot my aunt planted were duly staked and had rocks placed around their roots to prevent “wind rock”. Fast forward a few years and the garden is now thriving (and I’m back in her good books and still giving gardening advice!)

Game plan

Having a “game plan” is the catch-phrase of the moment, and exactly what an exposed garden situation requires. The first step in this game plan is to determine the direction of the prevailing wind, or winds. This may seem obvious, but if you’re on an exposed hillside surrounded by valleys, chances are you’ll get pummelled by wind from more than one direction! Creating permeable barriers, perpendicular to the direction of the wind, is vital to slow the wind down.

Erecting solid barriers, such as walls, will worsen the effect by thrusting the wind up and over the barrier, only to dump it with even greater force on the leeward side. Permeable barriers can be in the form of planting, or where instant shelter is required around outdoor living spaces, louvred fencing or trellis screening. Attractive wind screens, which double as a design element, can also be erected throughout garden borders, allowing less wind-hardy plants to be tucked in the more sheltered pockets.

Smart choices

Choosing the right plant for the right place is fundamental to success. Looking to those plants that grow naturally in exposed situations is therefore a good place to start. But don’t be fooled! Not all wind- tolerant plants will grow in all windy situations. For instance, sub-alpine plants have evolved to tolerate harsh winds and extreme cold, but few will grow in humid or temperate coastal areas.

Likewise, wind-tolerant subtropical plants won’t like cold climates. Scour nurseries to find out what grows well in your immediate area. on steep sites or where views will be compromised by tall plants, go for mass-planted, low-mounding and spreading plants, such as rock rose, Californian lilac and ground-cover coprosmas.

Plant for success How you plant is the second half of the equation. In extremely exposed situations, it’s best to start with small, bushy plants, rather than tall specimens. Vigorous young plants have a greater chance of survival as they will (hopefully) adapt to their new environment as they mature. Plant the toughest, most wind-tolerant and taller-growing plants as a “first-line defence” shelter belt.

once these have bushed out, interplant with smaller, equally wind-tolerant plants to fill the gaps. Encourage good growth by improving the soil. oost plants respond well to having plenty of compost mixed into the planting hole with slow-release fertiliser.

Check first, as some succulents and alpines prefer gravelly, infertile soils, and Australian natives and members of the protea family will turn their toes up at the slightest whiff of chemical fertilisers! Stake plants well, protect them with windbreak cloth, mulch with fine bark to help retain moisture and place rocks around the roots to help prevent wind rock.

It’s time to…

  1. Place indoor plants on trays filled with pebbles and half to three-quarters full of water to increase humidity around the plants (but don’t allow plants to sit in the water).
  1. Lime and compost bare vege gardens ready for spring planting.
  1. Continue to lay slug and snail bait regularly.
  1. Spray citrus with copper to prevent verrucosis (AKA scab).
  1. Plant all members of the onion family except chives (wait until spring).

**Tough contenders (* = coastal tolerant)


TreesCabbage treesCoast banksia (Banksia integrifolia)Five fingersKarakaKaro (Pittosporum crassifolium)NgaioNorfolk Island Hibiscus (Lagunaria)oleariasolivesPohutukawaPukaPuririRowan tree (Sorbus)Sydney wattle (Acacia longifolia)*

ShrubsBanksia speciesBottlebrush (Callistemon)BrachyglottisCoprosma speciesCorokiasEuonymusFlaxGrevilleasHebeIndian hawthorn (Raphiolepis)JunipersLavenderLeucadendronsLeucospermumsoleandersProteasRock rose (Cistus)RosemaryRugosa rosesSilver bush (Convolvulus cneorum)Silver germander (Teucrium)

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