Summertime in Australia. Hot feels like a bit of an understatement a lot of the time, doesn’t it 😉 It’s not just us feeling the heat though. The garden is baking out there. But there are 10 essential tasks you can do over summer to make sure your garden survives and is ready for the major planting season in autumn.
Bet you guessed this would be number one, didn’t you! To beat this heat the garden will need water. And lots of it. I hope had at least one watertank full at the start of the season 😉 Now there is no point in watering your garden in the middle of the day. The sun will soak that water straight up and leave your plants thirsty. Aim for early morning or in the evening once the sun goes down. If you’re having problems with mildew it’s probably best to move your watering to the morning.
It’s also better to water your plants thoroughly every few days rather than daily. Soak the ground, being careful to keep the leaves dry if you can. This is particularly important if you are watering of an evening. Wet leaves overnight is a surefire recipe for mildew and rot. Make sure you give the soil time to soak up that water without becoming waterlogged. Water one area, move to another, and then come back to water each area again.
Mulching your garden will help stop the soil losing all of that precious water to evaporation. It will also help prevent the sun-loving weeds from taking over your vegie patch. There are different types of mulch and each has its particular purpose, but you can seldom go wrong with using sugar cane mulch on the vegetable garden in summer. Pea straw is another favourite.
Wet the ground thoroughly then lay your mulch thickly. A good 5cm thick should do it, although I know many gardeners who would tell you to lay around 7-8cm thick. Personally, I have never lay mulch that thick, but like so much in gardening it all comes down to personal preference and experience. You need to mulch evenly across the garden and make sure you keep topping up over summer.
A lot of what I grow in the height of summer is what I can manage in pots. Why? Because you can move pots to a shady area much easier than you can protect large garden beds from the sun. And moving a pot costs nothing.
Move your pot plants to a spot where the get plenty of light but are out of direct sunlight. And don’t forget to water them in their new spot! I may have forgotten a time or two that I had moved some plants and found them rather dead later on.
When plants get hot they get stressed. Yep, just like me 😉 And when plants get stressed, they often become nutrient deficient. You can often head off problems by careful mulching, watering and feeding with a liquid seaweed extract. Watered down worm castings are another great choice for liquid plant food.
It not just you, me and the plants that need a good drink- your compost does too! The heat of summer can dry out your compost, drastically slowing the time it takes to breakdown into that black gold. Make sure you keep your compost damp by watering it with a fine spray. To make sure you’re wetting all through the compost and not just the surface, turn your heap (or your tumbler, or loosen with a fork if you’re using a bin) before you water. Careful you don’t overwater. You don’t want to end up with a soggy, smelly mess.
Say what now? If you haven’t come across this term before, deadheading is simply where you remove the spent flower from a plant. Once a flower has finished its job it becomes dry and faded. Lots of summer flowering plants will continue to flower if you continually deadhead over the season. Just cut the flower off with a pair of secateurs. You can even pinch the flower off if it’s a more delicate plant.
Lots of perennials flowering means lots of perennials with seeds to collect. I’m looking at you basil! When you are collecting seeds to start new plants, you want to make sure you are collecting from the best plants you have got. Why? Genetics. You want to carry on those desirable traits in your new plants. Different plants have different methods of seed collection but this post from Gardening Australia should get you started.
You know what isn’t struggling with this heat? Weeds. They are everywhere. Typically in summer the ground becomes dry and hard, and we plants less, which creates lots of space with the perfect conditions for weeds to thrive. If you don’t stay on top of them you are going to have an awful lot of work to do to get your beds ready for autumn planting.
Combat this by weeding regularly. Spend some time when the sun is low each afternoon and pull the weeds as you see them come up. Keeping the garden well mulched will help to prevent weeds from coming up in the first place. Make sure you don’t put your weeds straight into the compost. Use them to make ‘weed tea’ fertiliser instead 😉
Lots of garden pests are loving this warmer weather too. Be on the look out for aphids, curl grub, fruit fly and grasshoppers. Make yourself up a spray bottle with some chili and a squirt of eco-friendly dishwashing liquid to spray on your plants to get rid of aphids. Nets are probably your best bet for fruit fly. Nets can also help with grasshoppers, or you can try spraying your plants with garlic water to deter them.
Curl grubs eat the roots of plants so squash them when you see them! Again, you can turn to the ol’ dishwashing liquid in water trick here. Pour it on to the ground in areas you have found signs of curl grub. It will force the grubs to the surface where your chickens can feast on them. Keeping the soil wet helps too (see watering and mulching above) as the adult beetle doesn’t like to lay eggs in wet patches.
Aside from all of that garden maintenance, now is the time to prepare for autumn planting. Write your lists, order you seeds, map out your garden. Spend cooler evenings digging new beds. Apply compost, mulch and any other soil amendments you need. You can get garden test kits from Bunnings and garden stores if you need a little help knowing what is going on with your soil. Now is also a great time to plant cover crops. They will protect the soil in your unused beds and fix the nutrients you need to grow your next crop of vegetables.
The end of summer is also a great time to let the chickens loose in the garden. They will eat any pests, turn the soil and leave lots of fertiliser in situ for you 😉
How is your garden coping this season?