FIVE TOP TIPS TO PREPARE YOUR GARDEN FOR SUMMER
If you wait until the hot weather hits to drought proof your garden, it could be too late. Here are some steps you can take now
While right now our gardens look at their spring best, we often forget that summer is just around the corner. Usually by the end of October we have had some days when the temperature gets above 30C and there is a harsh north wind blowing. So rather than get to summer and wonder what you can do to help drought proof your garden, taking action now will pay big dividends.
1Improve your soil: Although this is probably something that should have been done already, understand that the better your soil and the more organic matter it contains, the more moisture it will hold. Organic matter such as compost or aged animal manures turns your soil into a sponge and helps water to stay in the root zone longer.
Some soils, especially sandy soils, can become water repellent and are called “non-wetting”. If you have sandy soil and see the water pooling on the surface without soaking in, treat it with an organic-based, biodegradable soil wetter. Products such as Eco-hydrate work by reducing the water repellency of soils and significantly improving the utilisation of even the smallest amounts of irrigation water at the root zone.
2Mulching: This is absolutely essential in every garden. It conserves water by helping to prevent the soil and plants drying out as rapidly, and it acts as insulation for the soil and the roots of our plants, giving them protection from the harshness of our summer sun.
A 5-10cm layer of coarse mulch can reduce evaporation, and consequently watering, by up to 70 per cent. It also helps reduce weed seed germination and to smother existing weeds. These weeds compete with our plants for water, as well as nutrients, space and light. It is best to use locally produced organic mulches, such as pea straw, coarse compost or bark mulch, as this will add further organic matter to the soil as it breaks down, thereby increasing water-holding capacity.
3Keep your garden well-nourished: Using organic-based fertilisers once a season not only feeds the plants, it nourishes and improves the soil by adding vital nutrients and organic matter, improving soil structure and drainage and encouraging earthworm and soil microbial activity.
These factors are vital to maintaining optimal plant health, which in turn has the effect of reducing plant pest and disease problems.
They also result in an increase in plant root growth, which improves the plants’ ability to draw moisture and nutrients from the soil in the summer. Plants and lawns will then be happier, healthier and better able to withstand the stresses due to heat and limited water.
4Turn to the sea: Use seaweed-based plant tonics on all new plantings or plants that are performing poorly. These products promote plant health and root growth, as well as strengthening cell walls, thus improving the plants’ resistance to heat and drought-stress.
5 Water efficiently This can reduce your water usage in the garden by up to 75 per cent. Most importantly, only water your garden when it needs it – scrape back the mulch and feel the soil, and do not water if it feels damp. Many gardeners over-water their gardens, while other people water too often but not for long enough, encouraging shallow rooting and thirsty plants. Plants in the garden prefer a good, deep soaking, less often.
In most heavy-to-loamy soils, where the above principles have been followed, watering well, once a week to every 10-14 days, is sufficient. Sandy soils may require more frequent watering, but as discussed earlier, the addition of organic matter and soil wetters will improve this.
This encourages plant hardiness and deep roots, making gardens and lawns more waterwise.
To see how effective your current watering program is, dig down 30cm after watering and see how far the water has penetrated.
Watering early in the morning or during the evening minimises evaporation, and don’t water if it is very windy. If you are hand watering, don’t “fairy water” the foliage; water the root zone, slow and low.
Developing good watering practices in spring trains your plants well, and means that you can transition well into summer, whereas if you have been superficially surface watering, your plants will be used to a little bit and often, stressing when it gets hot.
Pot plants need more frequent watering than those in the ground, and depending on the plant variety, size of pot and situation, often require daily watering.
Using mulch and a soil wetter will be beneficial.
Next week I will look at what else you can do to prepare for summer
To find out where I am giving garden talks, visit sophiespatch.com.au or follow me on Instagram @sophiespatch or Facebook Sophie Thomson (public figure)