Hot weather pot­ted plant care

The Tribune (NZ) - - GARDENING - WALLY RICHARDS Prob­lems ring me at 0800 466464 (Palmer­ston North 357 0606); email­wal­lyjr@gar­de­; web­site gar­de­

In sum­mer, look­ing af­ter house and con­tainer plants can be a daily ac­tiv­ity.

Out­doors con­tainer-grown plants, once their roots fill the pot, can need wa­ter­ing ev­ery day and on some days, twice.

Out­doors hang­ing bas­kets are heavy users of wa­ter, los­ing more mois­ture than con­tain­ers sit­ting on the ground.

In­door pot­ted plants will likely need wa­ter­ing once or twice a week, or even more fre­quently.

Out­door con­tainer plants grow­ing in pot­ting mix dry out faster than those grow­ing in compost, even if wet­ting agents have been ap­plied.

While there are pot­ting mixes that are still peat based or con­tain peat moss, most pot­ting mix th­ese days is largely bark fines with added slow re­lease fer­tilis­ers, some lime and other ad­di­tives.

Ideal for in­door plants, pot­ting mixes are in my opin­ion a waste of money for out­door use.

When pot­ting mix dries out, it creates a sur­face ten­sion which does not al­low wa­ter to pen­e­trate. Liq­uid tends to go to the sides of the pot be­fore run­ning out the drainage holes, so the plant misses most of it.

Fri­able pur­chased com­posts re­tain wa­ter far bet­ter and will ac­cept wa­ter much more read­ily than a pile of bark fines. If wa­ter runs out the drainage holes quickly, there are a cou­ple of tricks to thor­oughly mois­ten the mix.

Fill a large tub or bath with wa­ter and plunge the con­tain­ers into it and watch them bub­ble. The more bub­bles, the more dry ar­eas there are. When it stops bub­bling, the mix is wet right the way through. Lift and al­low ex­cess wa­ter to drain out.

Pun­nets of seedlings should also be plunged be­fore they are sep­a­rated for plant­ing out. A weekly plunge will ben­e­fit out­doors hang­ing bas­kets too .

If treat­ing in­door plants this way, do not do it in di­rect sun­light, and leave them in a shaded area to drain.

For large con­tain­ers that can­not be plunged, fill a bucket with warm wa­ter and add a good squirt of dish­wash­ing liq­uid. Ag­i­tate the wa­ter to make it soapy, then slowly pour the con­tents over the top of the mix soak­ing all the sur­face ar­eas. The soapy wa­ter breaks the sur­face ten­sion and al­lows wa­ter to pen­e­trate. You can use this same method on gar­dens and lawns for dry spots – ar­eas of dried grass on lawns sur­rounded by a ring of healthy grasses.

Spray Va­por­gard over and un­der plant fo­liage. One spray will last for about 3 months and will also help re­duce dis­ease and in­sect dam­age.

Be aware that most dis­ease dam­age to con­tainer plants is caused by over­wa­ter­ing, some­thing that needs watch­ing as au­tumn ap­proaches.

Pow­dery mildew can also be a prob­lem as the weather cools. Sprays of bak­ing soda and Rain­gard will pro­tect fo­liage from this prob­lem.

For plant pests such as mealy bugs, scale, thrips, aphids and the like, a so­lu­tion of Neem Tree Oil at 25mls per litre of warm wa­ter can be wa­tered over sur­face sprin­kled neem gran­ules when the medium is moist.

If the plant has mites, spray with Liq­uid Sul­phur – but not in con­junc­tion with Neem Oil or if Neem Oil is present on the plant.

Con­tainer plants need spe­cial care dur­ing the hot sum­mer months. The trick is to pro­vide enough mois­ture with­out over­wa­ter­ing.

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