Getting the most from your plants in SpainLife in Spain Thu, 28 Apr 2016
With a hot, dry climate you might have low expectations of what’s possible when it comes to creating colour in your garden. However, you might be surprised. Nico Clinton provides some gardening tips to help your garden in Spain flourish.
In the height of the summer, looking out across the landscape of southern Spain you might find yourself wondering how anything can survive there. The ground becomes dry and hard and July and August may experience no rain at all.
Conditions aren’t as harsh in other parts of the country and in northern Spain the climate has many similarities with that of northern Europe. However, whether you are based in the north or the south it is quite possible to create your own garden in Spain and maintain it.
What’s most important is to suspend any vision you had that’s based on your garden ‘back home’. Chances are that the plants that flourished there are going to be distinct foreigners in your plot in Spain. Neither should you visualise an oasis of lush green grass. You must chase away your pre-conceptions and embrace the climatic conditions you find – these must dictate your choice, along with your own circumstances of course.
Resident or non-resident?
Your first consideration when creating your garden in Spain is the amount of time you are intending to spend here. It’s self-evident that over the summer only the hardiest of cacti, yucca or palm is likely to survive for long periods of time without water.
Succulent plants and cordylines are two more species that don’t need regular watering and can wait until your return to Spain. They might not be the delicate, flowering plants you’re after but they will provide rich greenery to welcome you when you return.
The conditions you provide
The next issue you must consider carefully is that of the plot itself. Do you have a patio that you will decorate with pot plants or have you land where you’re intending to plant? In some cases Spanish gardens are a mixture of the two with the majority of space being tiled and perhaps just a small section of patio dug out to provide an area of earth as a base.
Gardens in Spain can look very different from what you’re used to back home. Lush grassed lawns are not a real option due to their need for frequent watering. Instead you are better advised to landscape any land you have with tiling, fountains and seating areas. You will want to create areas of shade and light and excellent effects can be created with a relatively small number of plants to care for.
If you do decide on pot plants you should water these two or three times a week in the summer and once or twice in the winter. It might come as a surprise that you do not have to water them every day. Pot plants can easily become waterlogged and the roots will rot.
Nico Clinton has a wealth of experience of gardening in Spain. He sees this overwatering as one of the biggest mistakes that people make. ‘I see this happening time and time again. Even during the hottest periods, your plants will not need watering every day.’
Nico advises that during the spring and summer you should add some liquid fertiliser to the water once a week. During autumn and winter this should be reduced to every 15 days.
When should I start my garden?
It can be difficult for someone not used to the climate to work out what the actual growing season is. The summer with its scorching heat does not seem conducive to plant life, but in winter Spain can still have its moments of frost and periods of low temperatures.
The best time to invest time and money in your garden depends on what type of garden it is. However, a rule of thumb is that if you are using pots then any season is a good one for buying and transplanting new plants in Spain. However, if you’re planting directly into the ground you would be advised to wait until winter.
When things go wrong
As in any garden anywhere in the world, plants are subject to aphids and other pests. The most common insects in Spain are greenfly (mosca verde), white fly (mosca blanca) and mealybugs (cochinillas). The best treatment for these is to fumigate your plants once a week over a three-week continuous period with an insecticide.
Overall, the skills that made you a successful gardener in your own country are likely to transfer just as easily to Spain. But what if you are not one of those people who plants seem to thrive around? Nico suggests that if this is the case, you might want to invest in a hardy plant such as a yucca, oleander, bird of paradise, bignonia or lantana.
Once you’ve followed the advice in this article then, hopefully, you’ll have the confidence to experiment and populate your plot with some of the other colourful and vibrant flowers that seem to grow effortlessly by the roadside.