Summer is a time of tremendous rewards and potential disasters.
The amount of sunlight and warmth we get here means plants will grow strongly - but the extremes demand that we be very careful and support our plants to sustain the growth advantages.
It's also the time of greatest productivity. Over the next few months, berries, stone fruit, pome fruit and a wonderful array of vegetables and herbs will be ready for harvest, so caring for them during this time is extremely important.
The things you do this month will consolidate all the hard work and growth benefits of spring.
Here are eight of my top tips to help your garden beat the heat.
1. WATER OF LIFE
Watering is the most important element as without it being applied either by hand or through reticulation, your plants are heading towards a very unhealthy crispiness.
There are very few plants that can survive summer here unless they evolved in the soil and climate or come from similar environments in other parts of the world.
2. MULCH IS A MUST
If you haven’t already done it, a layer of chunky organic mulch is very important for reducing heat stress in plants and minimising evaporation from the soil.
If you want to use stone or pebbles, avoid placing them straight over open garden beds as the soil will be effectively cooked by the stone as it superheats on scorching days and then radiates the heat into the soil afterwards for many hours into the evening. Use stone in shady spots only.
3. BOOST SOIL HEALTH
If you’re going to plant exotic species then you need to improve your soil.
Adding clay to sandy soils with a good humus mixed in creates something similar to loam, the ultimate growing medium for plants. Using a kaolin clay product such as Soil Solver provides rock minerals and silt as well as ensuring the soil is about as healthy as it’s going to be.
Cultivate the clay into the topsoil at a rate of 12.5kg per square metre turned into the top 150mm and you will increase the soil’s ability to hold moisture and nutrients.
4. LAWN RESCUE
If your lawns are looking dry or taking extra water to stay green this is the perfect time to apply a wetting agent.
Use a liquid form that is friendly to frogs and, ideally, organically based. These are available through garden centres and the liquids are generally concentrated, so mixing into a watering can and watering over the lawn and then coming back over with a hose and washing it in is important. The washing of the wetting agent into the topsoil activates it.
Mowing lawns regularly now and occasionally feeding with a slow-release lawn food makes the world of difference to their overall health and wellbeing. Regular mowing and feeding encourages thick spreading growth, which smothers out weeds and leaves the most impressive visual effect.
To get your lawn lush and green in time for Christmas, give it a boost with a greening fertiliser. Richgro Nitrogen Organic Fertiliser releases slowly but provides enough substance that the grass will green rapidly and look great.
5. GIVE YOUR PLANTS A LIFT
A liquid fertiliser applied over the foliage of indoor and shade plants now will add a healthy glowing lustre to their appearance in just 10-14 days. This is a great way to give the garden a lift.
For particularly tired gardens, applying Miracle Gro liquid fertiliser over the foliage in the mornings every seven days will give your plants an amazing boost, as this fertiliser is absorbed through the foliage and acts immediately in the system.
6. KEEP YOUR COOL
Now is a great time to add some trees to your garden.
Trees cool a garden and baffle strong breezes, increasing humidity. It’s estimated by climate scientists that Perth will soon be experiencing 50C days during summer and the best way to protect your plants, your skin and reduce evaporation is to have lots of trees around.
Even if you have a small garden you will have room for a small tree.
The only plants that should be planted in the peak of summer’s heat are those that originate from hot locations and can’t get enough heat.
Palms are classic examples, as are tropical fruits, although protecting them from drying winds will be important. Many plants from the equatorial regions will grow at their best but must be sustained with regular watering.
7. HEAT-PROOF YOUR VEGETABLES
The vegie patch is often a place that struggles as summer grinds on and the extremes of heat and wind play havoc with productive plants.
This is the most important time to mulch. Coarse chunky mulches are not the most popular for these types of beds but compost tree prunings or pea straw that’s been heavily top- dressed with chicken or cow manure will produce amazing results.
If your plants are scorching add a shadecloth over the top to protect them during the worst days.
Growing plants that love the heat is also important; capsicums, chillis, pumpkins, watermelons, rockmelons and honeydews all do brilliantly in the heat.
Plant some dwarf fruit trees around the centre or outside edges of garden beds to provide future shade.
8. WATER WISE
Lastly but most importantly, check your sprinklers weekly. This is the most important thing as one day of watering missed is sure to spell disaster for your plants.
TIP: Do not apply organic manures between now and January 31 unless you want to spend Christmas swatting flies away from your food. It’s also important to empty any stagnant containers of water to avoid mosquito larvae building up. If you want the water for wildlife, grab some tadpoles or encourage a frog to move in to control them. Pygmy perch do a great job in my garden ponds and can be purchased from select pet stores and pond-supply companies.