It’s 38 degrees, the air feels like soup and your garden is looking pretty droopy and sad.. it must be summertime! Proper preparation and hypervigilance are critical for your garden to survive the devastating effects our Aussie summer can have on our gardens.
Summer means different things in different parts of Australia. For Queenslanders, the season brings challenges like thunderstorms, dropping tree limbs, snakes and keeping the water up (when there’s not a deluge of it 20 minutes!). Further south, the heat can be savagely dry and intense. We take a look at a few basic survival tips during the sweltering months to help your garden survive until gentler seasons.
1. Prepare the soil well
Keeping moisture in the ground during Summer is one of the most important tasks to ensure roots are kept cool. Good soil preparation can make a significant difference to moisture levels and the chances of your plants surviving the Summer heat. Good quality soil allows your plants to improve their water holding capacity, and prevent your plants from drying out. It’s a good idea to prepare your soil during Spring to help your garden cope during Summer. A great way to prepare and improve your soil is to add organic matter with moisture holding ingredients like compost, manure and/or mulch.
When gardening in pots always use a top quality potting mix as the cheap mixes are pretty useless with materials that won’t nurture your plants or retain moisture. Quality potting mixes help to keep nutrients around a plant’s roots, allow them enough air to breathe and help support the plant.
TIP: There’s a difference between moist soil and waterlogged, drenched soil. It’s important to ensure your plants are well-watered, but also have plenty of drainage so that they don’t get root rot. Water well, but don’t drown them!
2. Protecting Potted Plants
Potted plants are vulnerable to overheating, particularly those in terracotta pots. Mulch them lightly and keep them out of hot sunshine. While it might seem like a good idea, don’t stand potted plants in saucers of water as it will likely kill them with root rot. Instead, you can give them a long drink regularly and drain well. Another option is to stand them in saucers filled with moist sand. This keeps roots and plants healthy.
TIP: If potted plants dry out to the point where watering become hard to penetrate the potting mix, soak them in a bucket of water for half an hour, then drain. If you notice that your plant’s leaves are dropping or dry/brittle it’s a sign they’re struggling from the heat. Take notice of these signs and give top up waterings, being sure to drain well.
3. Keep em’ cool
If parts of your garden are exposed to direct sunlight for the majority of the day, find ways to create shade to give plants a break from the harsh summer sun. Potted plants should be moved to a shady position if possible. This can be under a cluster of trees, or you could put up some shade netting to give them some reprieve from the summer heat.
Give extra watering and mulch any plants which can’t be moved into shade to help to retain moisture in the soil.
TIP: A layer of mulch about 50 to 75mm can reduce moisture loss from the soil and save you the job of weeding. Be mindful not to go overboard with it and only mulch to about 50mm in native gardens or garden beds that aren’t watered so regularly. Otherwise if mulch is too thick, rain won’t make it down to the soil.
4. Water early morning to prevent mildew and fungi
Infrequent, deep soakings are better than frequent light watering of your garden in Summer. The best time of day to water your garden in summer is from 6am to 9am, before the heat of the day sets in, giving your plants plenty of time to soak it up. It also allows any moisture on the leaves to dry off before nightfall and prevent mildew and fungi and the like from attacking them. While the best time of day to water your garden is in the morning, if you need to water in the afternoon, just make sure there’s enough time for foliage to dry out before sunset. There's also less chance you'll attract mosquitoes or sandflies that way.
5. Take Care of Plants in Bloom
Sometimes you’ll notice flowering plants dropping their buds and flowers suddenly. With many trees and shrubs blooming in summertime, sudden loss of buds and flowers can be result of the plants drying out, particularly when they are growing in containers. Be sure to mulch and water deeply once or twice weekly during hot, dry weather to limit this common and irritating problem.
6. Add nutrients to your garden
If you can’t water so frequently in Summer, try watering plants deeply and apply a soluble fertiliser with added seaweed during those times. However, be mindful not to fertilize during a heatwave as it can burn and kill your plants.
When fertilising in Summer make sure the soil is evenly moist first to reduce heat stress and to improve absorption, then use a half-strength organic liquid fertilizer right at the root zone.
7. Take advantage of summer plants and vegetables
Summertime is an ideal time to grow veggies. Varieties like salad greens, cucumbers and zucchini are easy to grow and thrive in the summer weather, particular with shade cloth in place. If tropical plants or flowers are more your thing then succulents, orchids, ferns, palms geraniums and other hot climate are the perfect choice for the hot season. Check out our Outdoor Plants range.
Gardening in summertime can feel a bit like a battle zone with the weather the stronger opponent. It’s a time to remain attentive to the impacts of heat on your plants and to water straight away when you notice they're wilting or looking dried out. Remember, deep watering less often is more beneficial than regular, shallow watering... And shade is your friend – relocate plants or create shade if you notice them suffering.