Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE | GARDEN - GREEN THUMB WORDS: MAREE CUR­RAN Got a gar­den­ing ques­tion? Email [email protected]­nat­by­ron.com.au

There’s been lots of dis­cus­sion in the me­dia re­cently about what we can do to help peo­ple and an­i­mals cope with the spell of hot, dry weather. But what about the poor plants? They, too, can suf­fer or even die if we don’t give them ex­tra care in these harsh con­di­tions.

Even sun-hardy plants will suf­fer on a hot day if they don’t have enough mois­ture in them. A plant suf­fer­ing from de­hy­dra­tion may de­velop brown or burnt patches on the leaves. The leaves, new growth, flower buds or fruit may shrivel or drop pre­ma­turely. Like us, plants need more wa­ter when the tem­per­a­ture soars, and they dry out even more quickly if there is wind as well.

Dif­fer­ent plants have dif­fer­ent ways of telling us they are thirsty. If you see leaves rolled in on them­selves, droop­ing leaves and stems, fallen leaves, crispy brown leaves, or dull, wrin­kled leaves and stems, there’s a good chance the plant needs wa­ter, fast.

It’s im­por­tant to wa­ter deeply, mak­ing sure that the wa­ter pen­e­trates through the sur­face of the soil to reach the roots be­low. Light wa­ter­ing en­cour­ages roots to stay near the sur­face, where they are eas­ily dam­aged in hot con­di­tions. Mulching the soil sur­face will help to pre­vent mois­ture loss through eva­po­ra­tion, but if the mulch dries out it too can re­pel wa­ter and stop it reach­ing the soil be­low. Scrape a lit­tle of the mulch away to ex­pose the soil, and make sure it is moist. If not, it’s time to use a wet­ting agent to help wa­ter pen­e­trate the soil rather than just run off the sur­face.

Weeds need wa­ter, too, so re­mov­ing weeds will stop them from com­pet­ing with your gar­den plants for mois­ture and nu­tri­ents.

Very ten­der plants and seedlings will ben­e­fit from some tem­po­rary shade to pro­vide respite from the heat. You can spread some shade­cloth over par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble plants or whole gar­den beds. A shade fac­tor of about 30 per cent will be enough to take the edge off the harsh sun with­out mak­ing the plant too soft.

Pot­ted plants will need more wa­ter than usual. You might want to con­sider mov­ing the pots to a slightly shadier po­si­tion un­til con­di­tions im­prove.

The best time to wa­ter is in the morn­ing. This gives plants time to take the mois­ture up be­fore the heat of the day. It also lets leaves dry off be­fore evening, so the risk of fun­gal in­fec­tion is re­duced. Even though it hasn’t rained for such a long time, fun­gal dis­eases are rife thanks to the high hu­mid­ity.

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