Good preparation is critical for your garden to survive the wilting effects of summer. Summer brings common challenges, such as dividing time and effort between keeping our gardens in good shape, and enjoying them during the summer holidays.
Take care of budding plants
Sudden loss of buds and flowers is often a consequence of the plants drying out, particularly when they are growing in containers. Mulch and water deeply once or twice weekly during hot, dry weather to limit this common and irritating problem.
Help pots to stay cool
Potted plants, especially those in terracotta pots, are vulnerable to overheating. Remember that standing potted plants in saucers of water encourages root rot and mosquito breeding. Instead, stand them in saucers filled with sand, and keep the sand moist. This ensures roots stay cool and plants remain healthy. If potted plants dry out to the point where re-wetting is hard, soak them in a bucket of water for half an hour, then drain.
Water early to avert mildew
Water in the cool of the day. The best time is morning but, if you water in the afternoon, allow enough time for foliage to dry out before sunset. This reduces the risk of mildew and other fungi attacking leaves, and there’s less chance you’ll get caught by the evening shift of mosquitoes or sandflies.
Add nutrients to the water
If you can only water occasionally, try to water plants deeply and use that opportunity to simultaneously feed and correct mineral deficiencies. Apply a soluble fertilizer with added seaweed.
Keep the lawn long and lush
Brown, bare, weed-infested lawns are symptoms of scalping, which means cutting lawns too low. It’s a misconception that cutting lawns low reduces the cutting frequency. Instead, mow lawns as high as your mower permits. Longer turf wears better, but most important of all, a thick sward suppresses weeds. Fresh lawn clippings are great for activating compost heaps and mulching shrubberies.
Keep the water flowing
Check that hoses and irrigation systems are free of leaks, and unblock the nozzles. Clear debris from gutters so that every shower funnels extra water into your rainwater tank. Do you need another, bigger rainwater tank? Use mosquito mesh to stop mosquitoes and frogs from entering tanks and pipes.
Do hard work when it’s cool
It’s safer, and you’re more likely to do a better job, if you complete energetic work such as mowing in the cool of the day – either before 10am or after 4pm. A good drink of water and a smear of sunblock are prerequisites, because that one five-minute job often leads to another, and another. Sunblock takes 15 minutes to create its protective layer, so use that time to plan your day in the garden. Don’t forget your hat (or umbrella) and sun glasses too, and if you do get burned, nothing beats the cooling, healing effect of fresh, home-grown juice of aloe vera. Tea tree oil-based mosquito repellent is also essential. Save some light tasks, such as weeding or propagating, to complete in the comfort of a shady spot.
Protect new plantings
Freshly planted vegetable and flower seedlings are likely to need a bit of sun hardening. Shelter them with 50% shade cloth, old net curtains, or leafy branches for a week or two. This helps them establish without harm.
Plan shade strategically
Strategically placing a deciduous tree, vine or some clumping bamboo to shield your house and garden from searing sunshine is a pretty and useful alternative.
Look out for pests
Be on guard for pest species and keep garden tools with wooden handles, hardwood stakes and other timber temptations off the ground. Avoid spreading woodchip closer than 3 feet to houses or timber sheds, and keep soil dry in this zone to help divert their foraging. Protect untreated timber, such as benches and garden bed edging, from decay. There are some non-toxic products around that are safe for making kids’ play equipment and raised vegetable beds.
Use your time wisely
Sometimes it’s just not possible to do everything you want to do in the garden. If you’re short of time but like your garden to look cared for, some fresh mulch, a few strategically placed flowering plants and a freshly edged lawn will give your garden a lift. If you have a bit more time, and live in a moist region, place granular fertilizers such as manure on the soil and cover with mulch. Apart from keeping soil cool and conserving water, mulch stops stormwater washing fertilizer away. If you have plants growing among hungry trees, give the plants a foliar feed so they can absorb the nutrients directly, rather than the tree roots getting to them first.
How much water is enough?
How can you tell if a plant is parched? Moisture-loving plants, such as impatiens, may wilt at noon, simply because they can’t absorb soil moisture as fast as it evaporates. Gingers are better indicators of dry soil, because they roll their leaves when stressed. Always inspect your soil to see if more water is really necessary.