Wednesday, 13 December 2017

How to: Prepare your garden for summer heatwaves

It's been a warm and dry spring, and we are now moving into a very strange summer with an exceptionally late La Niña that doesn't seem to be producing the usual cooler and wetter conditions. The Christmas Bushes are already bright red, and will be well past their best by the 25th. And tomorrow it's going to be really HOT!

There are a few things you can do to prepare your garden for the heat ahead. These are often stated, but worth repeating - it only takes one nasty hot dry spell to damage some plants beyond recovery. 

Mulch mulch mulch! 
Make sure you have a decent layer of mulch (around 5cm deep) across the garden to reduce evaporation. Some people suggest keeping it away from the drip zone of plants, but I don't bother and haven't had a problem with that approach. I tend to use eucalyptus leaf mulch collected from round the property and nearby, which is probably freer draining than some other mulches. This means water tends to flow through it to the plant's roots rather than being held in the mulch itself. 
Keep in mind though that mulch, particularly dry eucalyptus mulch, is quite flammable, so if you're in a fire risk zone don't use it close to the house. 

Water, water, water!
Do this only within reason, of course, and keep in mind all the other factors: recent rainy or cool conditions may mean there is still good soil moisture, and established local natives are generally OK to cope with most hot spells. It is mostly the newly planted, out-of-area and struggling plants that may need some extra TLC. 
Even the toughest plants can suffer in hot, dry conditions.
Here are some Lomandras (Lomandra longifolia) and
Coastal Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa) that were
felled by 
in November the extended hot, dry period.
This large handsome and heavy pot actually
dries out very quickly, plus it's in a sunny spot.
It needs a close eye keeping on it.
Seedling trays usually need very regular watering even in
normal conditions. In a heatwave, it may be worth checking
them twice a day. 
Small pots, particularly ones that contain well-grown
plants, need particular attention in heatwaves.
Mark plants that you know will need watering
This is a tip I learned from bushcare friends. The larger and more crowded your garden, and the more plants you have, the more important it is to mark anything that will need extra TLC. Not pretty - but effective! And I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to come up with something more appealing if you're so inclined!
This cute little Showy Violet (Viola
betonicifolia
) is very very tough when
established, but new plants may need
a helping hand for a few weeks. 
Longer-term 
Much time, water and grief can be avoided by situating plants in the right spot in the first place. Understanding your soil and the way water flows through it is really important to work out what plants will grow best where. Dry sandy soil and exposure to north and westerly sun and winds will require much tougher plants than damp, loamy or clay soil and sheltered conditions. 

Choosing local native plants is always a good first step, but even then our local species are adapted for the wide range of local conditions, from exposed sandy and rocky spots to wetlands and marshes, and the volcanic outcrops and sheltered escarpment sites that support amazing rainforest.  
One sign a plant is in the 'right place' (in its terms at
least!) is if it turns up there by itself. This dainty
Pennywort (Hydrocotyle tripartita) is self-sown in a sunny
but damp and low-lying part of the garden. It almost never
additional watering and grows just fine thank you!
Another tip I can share (from bitter experience) is that road verges can be very tough places to grow almost anything. They are often in full sun, cope with lots of foot and wheel traffic and many have outstandingly poor soil. Try only the toughest plants in those conditions and be prepared for some losses even then. 
The far corner of the verge - hot, dry, far from a hose -
and subsequently a very barren little spot!
Stay cool tomorrow!

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