Good preparation is critical for your garden to survive the wilting effects of the Aussie summer.
1. Take care of blooming plants
Does your camellia drop its buds and flowers? As camellias initiate budding in summertime, sudden loss of buds and flowers is often a consequence of the plants drying out, particularly when they are growing in containers. Mulch and water deeply once or twice weekly during hot, dry weather to limit this common and irritating problem.
2. Keep your pots cool
Potted plants, especially those in terracotta pots, are vulnerable to overheating. Lightly mulch and, where possible, position them out of hot westerly sun. Remember that standing potted plants in saucers of water encourages root rot and mosquito breeding, so try to put your pots on pot ‘feet’.
3. Water early in the day
Water in the cool of the day. The best time is morning but, if you water in the afternoon, allow enough time for foliage to dry out before sunset. This reduces the risk of mildew and other fungi attacking leaves, and there’s less chance you’ll get caught by the evening shift of mosquitoes. Mildew frequently attacks roses, pumpkin, melon, zucchini and cucumber.
4. Add nutrients to the water
If you can only water occasionally, try to water plants deeply and use that opportunity to simultaneously feed and correct mineral deficiencies. Apply a soluble fertiliser with added seaweed such as Seasol.
5. Keep your water flowing
Before summer’s worst heat, give your plants an occasional deep watering. You want to ‘train’ root systems to search a little deeper, so they can find water when conditions get tougher.
Once summer is in full swing, you may have to water a little more frequently. The best time to do this is early morning, to limit evaporation.
6. Do most of the work when it’s cool
It’s safer, and you’re more likely to do a better job, if you complete energetic work such as mowing in the cool of the day – either before 10am or after 4pm. A good drink of water and a smear of sunblock are prerequisites, because that one five-minute job often leads to another, and another. Don’t forget your hat and sunglasses too.
7. Plan shade strategically
Strategically placing a deciduous tree, vine or some clumping bamboo to shield your house and garden from searing western sunshine is often a better option.
8. Boost trace elements
Magnesium encourages robust growth and the production of energy in plants. Gardenias and roses in particular benefit from supplementary magnesium in summer. Also apply it to cymbidium orchids to help initiate flower buds. Add 1 heaped tsp of Epsom salts to 4.5L of water. Either spray the foliage, or water it in at the roots. If the leaves of citrus, banksia, grevillea, camellia or azalea become stunted and mottled yellow, now is also the time to boost the iron content of soil by applying iron chelates. This acidifies soil and adds iron necessary for healthy growth. It takes a month or so to see a result.
9. Watch out for pests
Be on guard for pests, in particular ‘Bronze Orange Bug’ on citrus trees can be a problem on the very hot summer days. These prolific pests will damage citrus trees, often causing fruit to drop. The Bronze orange bugs will suck the sap from the tree, flowers and fruit will subsequently fall and stems can turn discoloured and die.
It is best to start your pest management program in early spring while bugs are young. Spray products such as Pest Oil fortnightly to provide an organic defense. Apply good coverage to leaves including their undersides.
If infestation has already begun, or indeed taken hold, spraying with an insecticide is probably unavoidable. Use a naturally based insecticide with natural ingredients including Pyrethrum, like Yates Nature’s Way Citrus & Ornamental Spray, which is the only spray registered with the APVMA for home garden control of Bronze Orange Bug on edible citrus. Use as a contact spray to knock them down, then treat the foliage with a horticultural soap to deal with the eggs left behind. Insecticides containing Imidacliprid, such as Confidor will be effective.
Other organic remedies many gardeners employ include sucking up pests with an old vacuum cleaner, removal by hand and drowning them in methylated spirit, or crushing them between planks of wood. But all of these method put the gardener in harm’s way. If you must engage these pests hand-to-hand make sure you wear gloves, long sleeves, protective glasses and a hat or other protective clothing. Bronze Orange Bugs emit a foul-smelling, citric-acid-rich liquid when disturbed and this can be very dangerous, particularly if sprayed in the eyes.
10. Keep your mulch topped up
A layer of mulch limits moisture loss from the soil and saves you the job of weeding. The trick is getting the depth right. “Generally, you need a 50-75mm layer. But only mulch to about 50mm in native gardens or gardens that aren’t irrigated. If the mulch is too thick, rain won’t always make it down to the soil.”