Summer Gardening in Australia is quite a challenge when you stop to consider our temperature extremes, and yet we gardening addicts still strive to achieve our dream gardens! Whatever elements are thrown at us, we just get right back out there into the garden and carry on regardless. Is this our pioneer spirit and resilient human nature at work – or are we just downright stubborn? Speaking personally, I know the latter is the truth in my case!
The long, hot days of summer are with us once again, and with them come scorching dry winds and ominous thunderstorms. If we’re lucky, sometimes a shower of rain comes too, briefly settling the dust and cooling the soil a little. For a few hours the plants look refreshed and lush, and the flowers seem more vibrant. But as surely as day follows night, the hot sun returns to bake our gardens almost to a crisp.
Hot summers bring with them the need to slow down a little, to get through the heat of the day. Many of our plants are now slowing down their active growth and flowering as they prepare to survive the scorching summer heat. There is a natural rhythm that dictates this after the amazing activity of new growth during the months of spring, settling into the slower pace of summer.
So we gardeners should take this time to pace ourselves too, slow things down, and catch up on some of the smaller and easier gardening jobs. Here are just a few ideas of things to catch up with through the summer months, and make life in the garden a little less hard work!
Summer heat means we have to remember to water plants in containers on a regular basis, to avoid heat stress. Invest in some plastic saucers to place under your pots, or re-cycle your empty ice cream containers and fill these with water to provide a reservoir for your plants, and to avoid water run-off.
Don’t forget that heavy watering washes away any nutrients in the potting mix, so you will need to apply a water soluble fertiliser or some slow release granules to the pots. This will encourage stronger growth and better flowering.
Plants in containers that are showing signs of ongoing heat stress should be moved to a position that gives them shade from direct sunlight. Try mulching the pots with fine bark, orchid mix, or small pebbles – it looks good too!
The hot days of summer are perfect conditions for aphids to rapidly infest many plants and shrubs, so check your garden for signs of these pests. Climbers such as honeysuckles are prone to aphid infestation, and roses often suffer major damage to new shoots. Look out for deformed leaves and buds, and a sticky residue on the foliage. Check the underside of leaves also when looking for signs of infestation, and treat your plants as soon as possible. Major damage can occur to your plants if left untreated.
Some gardeners favour homemade soapy water sprays, keep in mind these need to be applied more regularly than chemical alternatives.
Warm and dry pots are a firm favourite with ants! These busy little bugs can seriously stress containerised plants. Avoid ant infestations by checking that your pots have not dried out, and maintain a steady moisture level. If the potting mix has become water repellent, try a wetting agent as a quick fix and make a note to replace with new, high quality potting mix in the cooler seasons. Intensive ant activity can be stopped by the use of a variety of different products now widely available.
Early flowering perennials will be looking a bit tired and may have stopped blooming. Penstemons, aquilegias, lupins, delphiniums, daisies, cannas and other varieties will benefit from a quick trim to tidy them up and encourage a second show of flowers. And don`t forget to compost your prunings wherever possible – think green! Now is also a good time to harvest any dried seed pods and save them for sowing in autumn and spring.
If your arum lilies, also known as funeral lilies are looking a bit sad – do not despair! These true perennials do most of their vigorous growing and flowering through the cooler months, so the hot dry days of summer send them into a semi-dormant stage. At this time of year, expect their leaves to turn brown and die off. In fact, if you are in a very warm area, your arum lilies will completely collapse to the ground! Once the leaves are looking quite dry and dead, they can be removed to tidy up. Lovely new shoots will emerge when the soil cools down again in autumn, and this will also be a good time to apply their annual feed of fertiliser.
The summer months bring high humidity to many areas, creating perfect conditions for fungal problems such as the dreaded black spot. If you grow roses, regular spraying from spring right through to autumn is helpful to prevent black spot infestation. Any specific rose fungicide spray that contains Triforine will do the job. If you prefer to use an organic method, a couple of teaspoons of bicarb soda dissolved in 5L of water with a touch of seasol is an option. It is ideal to spray early in the day, and before rain is expected. Do not spray your roses in extreme heat or windy weather.
The spores of black spot are airborne, and are spread by water splashing onto the foliage, so it is really important to avoid overhead watering. Water only around the roots, and mulch your roses generously to reduce the need for watering, and to reduce rain splash.
Remove any inward growing shoots to improve air circulation, opening up the centre of the bush. As your roses fade, `dead-head` them regularly to prevent seed pods forming. Lightly prune throughout the growing season to encourage more flowers and to keep the bush well shaped.
Don’t forget our feathered friends in the garden. At this time of year, water is scarce and it`s not unusual to see wild birds wandering around in the yard or coming up to the house looking for water. If you can find a little space in your garden for a shallow bowl of water, or if you have plenty of room for a bird bath, then please remember to top it up regularly with fresh water for the birds. You will be rewarded when you can sit in the shade and watch them enjoying a refreshing dip on a scorching hot day!
If you’re having trouble getting precious water to the roots of some of your garden plants this summer, try this idea. Cut some short lengths of black PVC irrigation pipe and insert into the ground near the base of your plants, leaving about 20cms above the ground. You can then apply water directly to the roots through the pipe, either with a watering can or with a garden hose on a low pressure. Try using cut lengths of old garden hose in the same way, or use larger PVC piping for watering your trees and shrubs.