13 December 2019

Surviving summer in the garden

I've just come in from the garden on this humid morning and want to pass on a few tips for hot and dry summer gardening. I know there are a lot of new gardeners out there so I hope what I share helps you get your garden through these harsh conditions. I was out in my garden filling up the bird baths, watering a few pots that looked parched and I also discovered a paper wasp nest right next to where I was standing.  Usually we leave the insects to do their thing, as they leave us to do ours, but with children visiting over the holidays this wasp nest is just too close to where they'll be playing so it has to go. I passed that job over to Hanno who will deal with it later today.  

The tree is one of our orange trees. We're watching it like a hawk because it's full of small oranges and if it gets heat stressed, it will drop the fruit.
Remember, I live in the sub-tropics and the conditions here may be different to what you're experiencing, especially if you're in southern Australian. But if you're in a dry garden, most of these tactics will work. I'm trying to keep my garden going over summer without losing too many plants so that in autumn, winter and spring I can garden as I normally do and enjoy the garden, the wildlife and the fresh air. That has made me change my tactics a bit. I want to increase my water saving capacity because the water we use in the garden here is rainwater in tanks and we don't know when the next storm will fill the tanks again, so we need to be thrifty with the watering. Luckily we now have about 10 thousand litres and we only need one good storm to fill them up again.

I've got a large wide bucket half-full with water set up in the green house and I water the pots in there by sitting them in the bucket for 30 seconds and letting them drain into a second bucket.  When I finish all the pots, the second bucket is poured back into the first bucket. Generally the watering bucket will last about four waterings of about 30 plants.  

Here is my bucket watering system.

You might be able to see the soaker hose operating here.

In the new flower garden I try to water in the morning. I often go out at 5am when it's still relatively cool and spend an hour watering, looking, watching the wildlife and checking the plants.  But we've recently added two soaker hoses to the garden, bought for $5 each at Bunnings, so we have the ability to easily deep water.  Hanno cut them to fit each of the two gardens and they're attached to tomato stakes with electrical ties so they don't move around the garden. They can easily be moved around if needed too.  These two soakers are fed from the large water tank twice a week for 15 minutes.  That's it.  I don't want to waste water and I want the plants to struggle a little to survive. Over-cared for plants will be the first to die when the going gets tough. If you give your plants just enough water soak the roots they'll be more resilient and able to cope with the various stresses of summer. Hopefully we can cut the watering down to ten minutes or five minutes twice a week, who knows. Like many things in gardening, it's a matter of observation followed by the appropriate action.

Mulching with sugar cane, straw, grass clippings etc will increase the effectiveness of the water you give the plants. It will also cut down on weeds, stop the sun hitting the soil, help keep the moisture in the soil and regulate the temperature. It's a pain in the neck to put it on but it's only a twice a year job and it works.  Don't forget your pot plants need mulch too.

On those days when the temperature is over 40 degrees, try to provide shade for your most sensitive or valuable plants.  An umbrella with a brick over the handle to keep it in place is a great way to protect smaller plants, or a shade tunnel or shade cloth screen for larger plants or an entire garden.  Both these measures are easily removed at season's end.  

Also, when you know there will an extremely hot day tomorrow, water the evening before. Plants have a better chance of surviving if they face a hot day well hydrated.  If your plants have not had an extremely hot day yet, you may get sun burned leaves on the hot days.  It won't kill the plants, just remove the burnt leaves and if the plant looks weak, give it a drink of seaweed water. That will help it recover.

There will probably come a point when you know the sun and heat will damage your flowers and vegetables and they may stop growing. When that happens, prune what you can prune to stop the stresses on the plant. This afternoon, I'm removing plants that I know won't survive much longer - pansies, petunias and alyssum in pots, and pruning back salvias, roses, daisies and coreopsis.  Pruning cuts down on the amount of energy and water it takes the plant to survive and it will give it a better chance of making it through summer. At the end of summer, I will stop pruning and those plants will spring back into flower.  

If you have to remove or prune something you really want to keep, take two cuttings of it, plant it up in a pot and let it sit in a semi-shaded position to grow into new plants.  They should be ready to plant out in autumn. 

Cuttings and vulnerable plants in the bush house.

Take advantage of the hot weather to grow heat-loving plants such as ginger, perilla (sesame leaf), chilli, capsicums, galangal and flower cuttings. If you're in the right climate, ginger is one of the things we can grow to add to cakes, biscuits, drinks, and many cooked meals.  I planted four sprouted pieces of ginger a couple of days ago.  They're in a large container in the bush house and they should be ready for using in about three months.  See below.

Ginger is growing on the right.  It loves heat and should be ready for harvest in about three months.

And when I was in the bush house a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a perilla plant growing in with some succulents. Funnily enough I'd been hoping some of the previous year's perilla might germinate but got sick of waiting and ordered a pack from the only place I could find with seeds. Naturally, as soon as I did that, the perilla started to grow.  🙄   See this old post for info about perilla.  It's often used in Asian cuisines, it LOVES the heat and will only grow in the hot months.

This is the worst summer I can remember and even though we use minimal water here (less than the average for one person), I'm compelled by what I see happening around the country to make sure I do everything I can in my own patch to conserve water and provide fresh water and a few seeds for native wildlife. We've never put seeds out before but I fear much of the habitat around here has been burnt out by the bush fires and I want to help the increased populations of birds we have visiting us now survive.  Are you doing this too?

This will be the last post of the year. I'm having a break over the holidays and will be back, refreshed, in the new year.  I hope you all enjoy the holidays and spend time with people you love or, if you're alone, have good books to read and something to keep you occupied and relaxed.  Thank you all for your visits this year, I'll see you again soon.  💕 🥰  💕
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