With January upon us, the long dry Australian summer is now in full-swing. Unless you’re in the Tasmanian mountains, that’s going to mean high temperatures and very little rainfall until autumn.
For gardeners, it’s time to think about summer proofing your garden. Preventative measures now mean that you’ll preserve your verdant greenery until the autumn rains and avoid the heartbreaking task of starting from scratch. Here’s how to do it without blowing your water bill.
Thickly mulching your plants offers them protection from the extreme heat, and also prevents moisture being lost into the air. Thick woody plants and trees will be fine without mulch, but if you have seedlings, fragile flowering plants or delicate ferns, they’ll definitely thank you.
Any loose, insulating material will work as long as it’s organic in composition. Try straw, shredded bark chips or even shredded cardboard. Weigh down the mulch with an extra layer of potting soil to prevent it blowing away if you’re using a light material.
2. Bring potted plants inside
Potted plants have a harder time than their garden companions. The soil in pots dries out quickly if not watered extremely frequently. The pots themselves can heat up, baking the roots of the plant inside. And because the plants tend to have smaller root systems, they can’t delve as deeply as they need for replacement moisture.
If you’re able to do so, move as many of your potted plants inside during the fiercest months of the year. They’ll benefit from the shade, and as a bonus, the greenery will help cool your interior.
If it’s not practical to move all of them inside, perhaps due to size constraints, at least ensure that they’re under a verandah or pergola, and that you prioritise them in your watering schedule.
3. Tend to your produce
Spring and summer are excellent for growing herbs and vegetables. All that sunshine means you’ll be enjoying ripe tomatoes and sweet basil by the bucketload. But if your vegetable patch is exposed to the elements, consider offering protection to your new seedlings. Light shade cloth directly overhead means they’ll be sheltered in the middle of the day when the heat’s at its fiercest. Planting and thinning should always be done in the early morning or late afternoon when plants are under less stress.
4. Install a drip system
Sprinklers arch water into the air, where much of it is lost to evaporation before it even hits the plants. By contrast, a drip system feeds water along your garden at ground level, where it can permeate gently into the soil. Drip watering systems are between 20 and 50% more efficient, meaning you use less water and your plants get better hydrated.
You can install a system yourself or hire a professional to do it. Add a filter to stop the pipes from clogging, and leave them in the sun for a while to soften them so that they can be straightened out.
5. Water early
Regular watering is critical if you want your garden to see another autumn. The best time of day is early morning, when the sun is still gentle.
By watering now, you’ll make sure that the water gets to the plants, as it can run down into the soil to the roots. You’ll also fortify your plants against another hot day – the evaporating water from their leaves will help keep them cool.
If your schedule makes it difficult to water in the morning, try and time your afternoon watering so that there’s a bit of sun left. While it might seem logical to water in the evening after the sun has gone down, doing so risks fungal problems, such as mildew. If your leaves have a little time to dry first, it’s safer for the plants.
Garden maintenance can feel like a chore in the hot weather, but it’s more important than ever to avoid your plants getting too stressed. Water and attention are all your plants need to stay healthy and thriving in the summer heat.