3 tips to help your garden thrive in hot weather
It certainly has been a long hot summer for many parts of Australia! And while that’s great news for most of us, Australia’s ever unpredictable climate means some of our favourite plants might be suffering in silence. Scorched leaves, dry, nutrient-sapped soil and fungal diseases are just some of the horticultural challenges that come with extreme heat.
Here at HomeHub, we asked gardening expert Adam McCall from Adams Garden for his top three summer gardening tips. He explains how creating shade, laying mulch and watering wisely will help your garden not only survive but thrive during hot, dry summer spells – and well beyond.
What’s the best way to protect plants from the harsh Australian sun?
Record-breaking temperatures over 40 degrees combined with hot winds will wreak havoc on any garden. Last summer, even in a drought resistant garden, many of my plants had their leaves and growing tips scorched in the extreme heat.
The best thing you can do on very hot days is to shade your most vulnerable plants, particularly during the afternoon when the sun is the most damaging. Create your own shade structures with simple frames of recycled timber or bamboo and shade cloths. You can buy shade cloth at your local garden centre or even old sheets will do.
An A-frame structure allows you to place the legs closer together or further apart to create more or less shade. A teepee structure using bamboo allows you to protect young trees and can be easily moved around the garden. You may need tent pegs in windy conditions.
What is mulch and why is it such a great idea in summer?
Mulch is the term used for any organic or non-organic material used to cover your garden beds. Organic mulches such as bark, wood ships, sawdust, hay and lawn clippings break down and release nutrients into the soil.
Non-organic mulches such as pebbles, rocks and boulders look good and keep the ground underneath cool and moist. They’re often used around cacti and other succulents that don’t require additional organic matter.
Mulch is a crucial component of a healthy garden. And it’s particularly important in our harsh Australian climate, especially in times of drought and during the summer months. This is because mulch stabilises soil temperatures in the root zone, suppresses weed growth and assists with water retention in the soil.
What’s the best way to mulch?
Mulch can be applied at any time, but is best in mid spring or early summer. Before mulching, remove any grass, weeds and dead plants from the bed. And put in any new plants before applying your mulch layer. Your mulch should be around 75-100mm deep.
Don’t pile mulch up against the stems and trunks of plants as this can lead to trunk rot. While mulch helps to retain soil moisture, your garden will still need watering. Make sure you top up your mulch regularly to maintain the desired thickness.
Why’s it so important to water regularly in summer?
Most plants are composed of up to 90 per cent water. Water is requisite for cell structure, stability and growth. It’s also vital from the germination to harvest. Plants need water to hold themselves up. If the cells don’t have enough water in them, the plant will wilt. At worst, it’ll kill them. You need to get into the habit of watering regularly in summer.
Is there a right way to water or do you just turn on the tap?
Most people think watering is a simple matter of hold the hose and turn it on. Watering is an art however and there’s quite a lot to remember.
In addition to sprinklers or irrigation systems, most of us use a hose to water our gardens. If you’ve got an attachment with a range of settings, use the shower setting and direct the stream toward the base of your plants. If there’s a slope to the bed, water on the high side.
When you water, be sure to water thoroughly and deeply. A shallow watering or sprinkling drives plant roots up instead of down, causing your garden to require more watering. Shallow root systems also mean your plants will be unable to withstand wind blow, particularly when we get those hot dry westerlies.
When watering, focus on the soil, making sure the water soaks down a good foot at least. The amount of water you put on your garden is going to depend on the soil type, available sun and stage of growth – not to mention if it’s been raining or not.
So how do you make sure you don’t over water?
The best way to avoid overwatering is by sticking your finger in the ground. Ideally, it will feel damp, but if it feels soggy, don’t water anymore. Give the garden time to dry out a little bit. If your plants are starting to suffer, consider taking a pitchfork and punching holes in the soil to let the water drain right in. This seems to work well.
And when’s the best time of day to water?
The best time to water your plants is in the early morning hours. This is peak growth time and it gives the soil and roots time to absorb the water fully before the heat of the sun evaporates moisture from the soil.
Watering in the heat of the day is wasteful and damaging as you lose much more water to evaporation, and cold water can shock plants. Evening watering can lead to mildews, rusts and other diseases because the water will sit overnight on your plants or the roots.
The one exception is however your veggie garden: if your vegetables are wilting and appear dried out, give them water right away whatever the time of day, and, if possible, get them in the shade.
Mulch has numerous benefits for your garden, including:
- Helps retain moisture and prevents evaporation
- Stops soil from blowing or washing away
- Adds necessary soil components as it decomposes
- Cuts down weeds by blocking light needed for seeds to germinate (note: this also applies to seeds you wish to plant, so don’t mulch heavily until plant seeds have well and truly sprouted)
- Keeps soil temperatures more consistent and insulates against cold and heat
- Helps lessen soil borne fungal diseases reaching plants
- Keeps garden beds looking neater and natural