So far the
Auckland summer has been hot and dry, with no sign of rain for at least another couple of weeks. Plants really struggle during this time of year and they need some help from us in order to keep them looking their best. Our gardens have long forgotten the wet winter and they are now desperately trying to hang on until the next soaking rain.
Until then, here are some tips on how to protect your plants through the warm months.
1. Mulch, Mulch & Mulch!
If you haven't already mulched your garden, be sure to make this a priority. Mulch helps slow down the evaporation of moisture from the soil, so be sure to apply a thick layer (min. 5cm) of mulch around your plants. Organic mulches are best, as they break down and add nutrients to the soil over time, however in situations where the high wind is a problem such as apartment balconies, use an inorganic mulch such as small decorative stones. Give your plants a deep watering BEFORE applying mulch, otherwise, the mulch can prevent the soil from absorbing water when applied afterward
2. Avoid watering your garden in the middle of the day.
This reduces the risk of burning a plant's leaves from the sun's heat and reduces unnecessary water loss through evaporation. All plants will benefit from a fortnightly dose of a seaweed tonic. This aids a plant's roots system and reduces the stress caused by dry weather. Apply to both the plant's leaves and the soil.
3. Preventing Aqua-phobic Potting Mix
Pot plants really struggle during these conditions. It's quite common for the soil in pots to become "Aqua-phobic" where the water simply runs off the top and down the sides without actually penetrating the soil itself. This is often caused by excessive drying out between waterings. Premium quality potting mixes will be better at preventing this, but even they can suffer. Water crystals will help, but they are only good if you used them at the time of planting. If your plants are struggling with this condition, there are a few things we suggest you can do.
Keep the soil moist to prevent your mix from becoming aqua-phobic in the first place. You may need to do this every day during the warm months, especially if there has been no rain or if your pots are kept undercover. Some plants such as succulents may not require as much water, however, their potting mix should contain a-lot of grit for free draining, so they have less of a chance of becoming aqua-phobic
Revive small pots by placing them in a bucket of water made up with a seaweed tonic. Leave them in the bucket until the water has been sucked up to the top layer of soil. This could take an hour or so to happen. Remove when ready and allow to drain. Repeat this at least once a months
Compost and peat are great soil additives that not only hold and retain water exceptionally well, but they also help to revive a tired potting mix. They also have the benefit of absorbing water quickly and distributing it slowly into the potting mix. To use these to your advantage, remove any mulch and a few centimeters of the top layer of soil. Mix a good quality compost with peat at about a ratio of 50/50. Wet until the mix is moist but not sloppy. Apply a 3cm layer to the top of the pot around the plants and replace the mulch. Water thoroughly.
Plants should be re-potted with fresh potting mix every 2 years as an absolute minimum. Larger pots may be more difficult to achieve this, so be sure to apply compost and fresh mulch every 3-6 months to continually improve the potting mix and to reduce the chances of aqua-phobic soils. If your plants are due for a re-pot, hold off until the weather starts to cool to prevent any shock to your plants.
5. Install a watering system
If you are struggling to keep up with the commitment of watering your garden or if you are often away for long periods, consider installing a watering system. The initial cost outlay will be worth saving your plants from the stress and potential loss of life during these hot dry days. Chances are you'll also save on water!
Don't let the summer dry destroy your planting efforts from the previous months. Give your plants the little extra attention they need and deserve to pull them through the tough times.