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Gardening as an expat- Berlin problems and solutions

What is it like coming to a place with a botanical heritage very different from the one you grew up in? we come here with memories of plants we love and hopes of growing these in our new homes. We are faced with the fact that the plants we adore are sometimes really difficult to grow in the harsh Winters and dry Summers of Berlin.


If you have recently arrived from another country I appreciate your struggle. My experience of gardening is purely European and more specifically Northern European. Having over 15 years experience of how to grow plants in Berlin wouldn't help me if I was suddenly stranded in a new land. I would know nothing and would have to start all over again.





Some common challenges of gardening in Berlin include:


Sand

Drought

Late frosts


The sand problem

Berlin is built of rubble on the sands of an ex swamp. Sand is a nutrient poor soil. It is great for drainage but challenging for water and nutrient retention.





Solution

You can help this situation with lots of organic matter like worm castings (worm poop) and compost mixed into the soil. You can use mulch to help the soil retain water. Grow in containers and raised beds rather than directly in ground as you can then more easily control the quality of the soil you are using. Mulch is simply a layer of organic matter placed on the surface of the soil around plants that acts as an insulating blanket. It protects against evaporation and temperature extremes.


The drought problem

Summers here are unmediated by any cooling ocean breezes as this city is so far inland. Every Summer is hotter than the last.




Solution

yet again mulch can help. Put down an inch of bark chips in large containers to form a protective blanket over the soil.


The frost problem

though less common than it used to be the last frost can be late as 15th of May in Berlin. A series of cold days in the middle of May known as the 'Eisheiligen' (Ice Saints) can knock out your tender plants. It is easy to be tempted by the bright warm days of Spring to plant our Tomatoes outside before 15th May. The days may be warm and bright but the nights at this point in the Spring can still be unpredictably cold. It is at this time the Eisheiligen comes and turns your Tomato leaves black.





Solution

Protect any rows of frost sensitive plants you have planted out before the 15th of May with plant fleece. Protect individual plants by putting halved plastic drinks bottles over the plant or other sorts of temporary protection. Even a sheet overnight can help. Always check the hardiness of a plant before you decide to grow it and come up with a strategy to protect it. Keep an eye on weather forecasts so you can take protective action.

Move containers against the outside of your apartment walls or bring them inside overnight.


5 common balcony plants that Berlin loves to kill and how she does it:


Here are some choices you can safely leave behind at the garden centre.


Lavender

I know! I know! its a controversial choice but I see more dead ones than live ones!

Cause of death: drought and extremes of temperature, container too shallow.




Dipladenia

Cause of death: Winter cold




Geraniums/ pelargoniums

Cause of death: shredded by wind and drought





Citrus

Cause of death: knocked out by cold





Heather

Cause of death: planted as a disposable plant in a container that is too shallow




It is interesting to note that all the plants listed above that do worst are sold by garden centres as the best choices for balconies. No one is encouraging you to grow something that thrives and comes back every Spring because the garden centre can make more money if you kill your plants and buy more.


5 plants that Berlin loves to grow:


Great perennial choices (apart from the annual Tomato) that will grow back year after year.


Hops

This rowdy vine grows everywhere in Berlin. I love it's invasive nature and soft beery flowers.



Fruit trees and fruit bushes especially apple trees

There is an apple tree to fit every garden situation, from the biggest to the smallest.



Sedums

You will never be able to destroy this plant.




Tomatoes (if planted out after danger of frost has passed)


Fruits abundantly in hot Berlin Summers.




Sage species- most drought tolerant herbs can thrive in Berlins sandy soils, particularly this purple flowered ornamental Sage Salvia Nemerosa that is beloved by bees






So that's it for now- make great plant choices and I WON'T see you at the garden centre this beautiful Berlin Summer. If you want some plant advice explore the rest of this website and feel welcome to email me at easybeeberlin@gmail.com. I am your friendly expat gardener in Berlin.




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