Eight hot garden tips

Sunday, 04 December 2016

Salvia Mesa Azure gives lots of colour in summer

As we hurtle towards Christmas, I am sure few people have time to read gardening blogs. For my final posting of the year, I thought I would concentrate on a few suggestions for how to manage our gardens in summer. We are going through an extremely hot, dry phase here in Sydney at the moment, and it is very trying for gardeners.

Watering is one of our most vital summer chores

1. Watering - generally speaking, it is best to water your pots and garden beds in the cool of the day, ideally in the morning. Watering in the heat of the day results in rapid evaporation of moisture from the soil and it also can actually be harmful to plants. Fuchsia plants, for example, can actually be killed by being watered in the middle of heatwave. Though it is rather pleasant to stand outside in the evening with a hose, glass of wine in hand, watering at that time of day can increase the risk of mildew and other fungal diseases attacking your leaves. When watering, try to water deeply, rather than just a quick splashing around of water. Consider installing a drip watering system that will deliver water to the soil, where it is needed.

Sugar cane mulch (left) is an excellent garden mulch

2. Mulching - a thick layer of organic matter such as sugar cane mulch, lucerne or semi-decomposed compost applied over the top of soil (which is preferably moist at the time) really does help to conserve water in your garden beds. It also cuts down on the number of weeds, which compete with your plants for water and nutrients, and which have to be pulled out - by you! The mulch eventually breaks down and adds to the humus content of your soil.

3. Do your gardening in the early morning or evening - to avoid the draining, unpleasant heat of the day taking its toll on you. Whenever you are going to be exposed to the rays of the sun, no matter what time of day, wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat, and keep well hydrated. I also cover up with clothes as much as possible. My summer gardening outfit is a long-sleeved cotton shirt and long cotton pants, obtained from Vinnies!

4. Avoid planting - as far as possible. It is probably best not to plant new things out in your garden at this time of year, as a sudden heatwave can be very stressful for a newly planted specimen that has not settled into its bed. That said, I often go against my own advice and pop a few plants in here and there. If you are going to do this, it is advisable to water them in well with some Seasol in your watering can, and shade the plant somehow for a week or so, by rigging up a protective tent made out of an old sheet and some sort of support to hold the cloth. An anti-desiccant spray (such as DroughtShield) applied over the leaves can also help the plant cope with intense heat in its early days.

Crepe myrtles are excellent small trees in Sydney for summer shade and flowers, and autumn foliage

5. Plan for some shade - in summer you are able to see which parts of your garden could benefit from the planting of a strategically placed small tree or shrub (particularly on the western side of your property) to make the place more pleasant to be in during the hotter months. Provision of shade can also allow you to grow some of the beautifully shade-loving plants that grow well in our Sydney climate. Do some research into some possibilities, and plan to put them in during autumn or winter next year.

Dahlias are one of the many colourful flowers of summer

6. Look for summer colour - often we think that once spring is over, there can't be many flowers in our gardens. However, there are actually many summer-flowering plants that thrive in Sydney. Check out nurseries and other people's gardens, and make some notes of plants you could add to your garden in autumn to make next summer more colourful .

7. Keep up the fertiliser - plants, especially flowering and cropping ones, need ongoing feeding through the warmer months. Liquid fertiliser is probably the best to use at this time of year. Apply in the morning, and preferably not on a day predicted to be hot. If using granular fertiliser, choose a cool day (preferably a rainy one!) and make sure the fertiliser is very well watered in, otherwise it may burn your plants.

8. Deadhead spent blooms - not only does this tidy up the garden, it encourages more flowers to be formed, especially for plants such as Dahlia and Canna. Pick your vegetable crops regularly for the same reason.