Summer is tough on plants. Not only do they have the summer dries to cope with, it's peak time for pests and diseases.
Battle of the Bugs
When garden pests run amok, chemicals offer a quick fix solution. These days we have some excellent natural and low-toxicity products at our disposal. But still, most gardeners are hesitating before they reach for the spray bottle. Why? Because when we spray we risk upsetting the balance of nature. Even natural sprays can kill beneficial predatory insects along with the pests. In the long run, the less we spray, the less we should need to spray.
Pest and disease populations can be kept at tolerable levels without chemical intervention if we take some preventative measures:
Healthy plants, just like healthy people, are the most able to fend off attack from pests and diseases. Choosing disease resistant varieties, and keeping them well fed and watered is half the battle won.
When things get out of hand, modern low toxicity pesticides come in handy. Spray only those plants that need it, and don't be tempted to spray the healthy plants.
Saving precious water
The biggest concern in the summer garden is water. These basic measures will save time and holiday worries - and the water bill too.
Mulching not only prevents water being lost from the soil surface. It also improves nutrient absorption and prevents a hard surface crust that repels water. Organic mulching materials, have the added advantage of improving the soil's water holding capacity as they break down. Be sure to saturate the soil before laying mulch.
Train your plants to cope with less frequent watering by gradually increasing the days between watering. Deep infrequent watering encourages roots to grow deeper into the soil where they are less likely to be affected by a spell of dry weather. Frequent shallow sprinklings lead to shallow roots in danger of drying out.
Wind whips the moisture from your plants. Think hedges and shelter belts or protect new plants with wind cloth.
Weeds rob the soil of moisture and nutrients. Mulch to help keep them under control.
Time it right. Don't water in the middle of a hot summer's day when evaporation is high. Morning watering is ideal as plants tend to be most active at sunrise. Evening watering ensures good water retention but it can encourage diseases in warm humid weather. An electronic water timer makes watering efficient and worry free.
Aim for the soil, not the foliage. Soaker hoses and drip feeders are more efficient than overhead sprinklers. Check and adjust irrigation systems to ensure water is going where it's needed.
Lawns are high water users. Save your water for areas of lawn that really count and turn the rest into paving, or mass planted beds of shrubs and groundcovers. Plant sloping areas difficult to mow with drought tolerant groundcover plants.
Raise the mower a notch or two and mow less frequently while the weather is dry.
Invest in good equipment. Old leaky hoses, and those that are awkward to use, waste water.
Pots and Baskets
It's a great time to fill pots and hanging baskets with festive summer colour. Keeping up with summer watering is much easier when pots and planting mix are chosen with water efficiency in mind.
Some pots lose water faster than others. One that's too small will need constant watering and feeding. Porous terracotta or concrete pots need more watering than glazed or plastic pots. Placing a plastic pot inside a favourite decorative pot is one way to conserve summer moisture. A decorative mulch, such as a layer of pebbles placed on top of the potting mix after planting, is another way to curb water loss.
Choose potting mix that contains water storage granules and a wetting agent. Wetting agents, such as Debco Saturaid, improve watering efficiency by up to 50%. Dry potting mix actually repels water. When mixed into potting mix, Saturaid's natural, non-toxic granules improve water absorption and nutrient uptake. Saturaid creates channels through dry soil and acts like blotting paper. Sprinkle it over lawns, garden beds and containers, or mix into potting mix at planting time. Water after application and re-apply every summer.
Pot Sealers create a waterproof barrier inside porous pots, such as concrete and terracotta, which can suck moisture from potting mix.
Yates Pot-a-Seal can also be sprayed onto the outside of pots.
Water Storage Granules absorb up to 400 times their own weight in water. They reduce water wastage, increase the time between watering and help plants survive during dry periods. Yates Waterwise potassium-based granules last for up to 5 years, then biodegrade.