Drought proof your garden this summer
Drought proof your garden this summer
After a damp and chilly spring, who isn’t looking forward to a little sunny weather this summer! But, depending on where you live, keeping your garden going over the hotter months – without losing too many of your favourite plants, can be challenging.
Well, don't panic – we’ve got you covered. Here are some simple, easy, water-wise ways that you can adopt, no matter the style of your garden, to give your place some love in the warmer months, and make sure that it doesn’t just survive, but thrives!
The start of summer is a great time to give all your garden beds and pot plants a feed of fertiliser. You can also use a liquid fertiliser to correct any nutrient deficiencies and to promote flowering and fruiting. Seaweed powder mixed with water helps plants in times of stress such as hot summer days.
Healthy and well-prepared soil also goes a long way to making your plants more drought tolerant. The slow release of nutrients as the organic matter breaks down will produce healthier specimens of all your plants which in turn allows them to better resist disease, infestations of pests and lack of water in dry periods. Even better, soil that contains a lot of organic matter can hold more moisture. So now is also a good time to add concentrated sources of organic matter into your soil like compost, organic soil improvers or worm castings to top up garden beds, veggie patches and pot plants. This will add soil biology to new potting mix and replenish your garden soil.
Next up, mulch! Bare soil quickly loses moisture, so this is your first line of defence against water loss. Fresh mulch holds moisture in the soil and helps to maintain a constant soil temperature which prevents heat stress in plants. It also helps to suppresses weeds and supplies nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, providing an environment for beneficial organisms. Just remember to water your soil thoroughly before mulching. A five-centimetre layer of chipped bark, untreated wood chips, coir, pea straw, or sugar cane mulch will greatly improve moisture retention on hot days. But don’t over apply – too much will prevent water getting in and may restrict air flow to the soil and suffocate your plants. And keep it away from the stems and trunks of your plants to prevent them rotting.
Be water wise
It’s important to save water, so be mindful of your usage and keep abreast of water restrictions in your area. But there are many other practical steps you can take around the garden to help your plants survive without turning on the hose unnecessarily.
First up, make sure you water in the cool of the early morning, which helps hydrate and prepare plants for the heat of the day when evaporation is low. A good soak once or twice a week rather a light spray on the leaves every day is the best option. By watering less frequently but deeply, it encourages plants to send roots deeper into the soil where it’s cool. It also prevents weeds and creates more resilient plants with deeper roots. If you’re going on holiday, give everything a good water before you leave and move smaller pots out of the sun, and indoor plants outside, where they might get some rain.
To save time and water most efficiently, invest in an irrigation system. Drip irrigation is extremely effective at delivering water to directly to the roots of plants in the right amounts. It can also be linked to an automatic or smart timer, and with a rain sensor attached, it will only water when needed.
Set up a greywater system
Think about directing greywater from showers, baths, basins and laundries to your garden. But check with your local authority before installing a system to collect and reuse greywater, as it generally requires a building consent and should only be installed by a certified drainlayer.
Alternatively, for a low-cost approach, collect greywater in a bucket from an area where there is no contamination risk, like your shower. While you can’t use it in food gardens, it’s great to tip onto non-edible plants or your lawn if used within 24 hours.
Don't forget your pot plants
On hot days, moving pots to shady spots temporarily can help prolong their life. If possible, place them on soil or garden borders as the heat rising from pavements, concrete and patios etc is more detrimental and drying for plants. It’s also worth placing deep saucers or bowls or buckets under pots to catch any water that runs through and take down hanging baskets once a week and pop them in a bucket of water for a thorough soaking. Even better, leave a bucket under baskets when you re-hang them to catch run-off water, which can then be used elsewhere in the garden.
Select your plants wisely
Unsurprisingly, plants originating from low rainfall areas, such as parts of South Africa and the Mediterranean, are generally better suited to survival in hot Australian summers. Look for Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Lavender, Rockrose, Agapanthus, Proteas, Leucadendron, Fairy Iris, Plumbago, Gazanias and African Daisies. Likewise, many Australian natives are also dry-tolerant, including Corokia, Coprosma, Kapuka, Buchanan’s sedge and Daisy Bush. Other drought-tolerant plants include salvias, grevilleas, geraniums, lamb’s ear and silverbush, while drought tolerant tree varieties include Ginko, Pine Trees, Eucalyptus and Robinia.
Identify Vulnerable Plants
Identifying vulnerable plants is important, as these are likely to be the ones that will need the most attention to help them through the dry period. Experienced gardeners will hopefully have planted thirsty plants in the most moisture retentive areas of the garden. But, during a drought, these areas will eventually dry up too. Any shrubs or trees that are beginning to show signs of stress should be watered. Keep a look out for wilting or curling leaves, leaves turning brown, leaf drop or early and prolific seed production.
To prune or not to prune
Do not prune drought-stressed trees or shrubs. Any pruning can wait until the weather is cooler and/or wetter. The only time you should prune in a drought is to remove damaged, dead, infested or diseased stems or branches.
Avoid gardening on hot days
Avoid mowing, pruning, planting or any garden work apart from watering in the morning of a day forecast to be over 35 degrees. It’s way too stressful for your plants, and the beach or the pool is a far better option!
These are all simple measures that you can take to help drought-proof your garden and if you follow them, you’ll keep your plants healthy and vibrant. Summer gardening is an absolute pleasure, filled with sunny days and balmy evenings and looking after your gardens’ health improves your health and well-being too.