Summer garden survival tips from Xanthe White
Spring started dry this year and then in one large sweeping storm it refilled its cups again, proving that for all the technology and advances in science we still have away to go when it comes to predicting the weather. But it is a good reminder that being prepared ahead of time for a dry season before it creeps up upon us is water in the bank. Like most things in life being prepared in advance will leave you in a good position even in more extreme summers.
Tips for water retention:
Get rid of weeds. Weeds waste water by using it for unwanted growth and remember the best way to avoid them coming back is to replace them with something better so the water is serving a purpose.
Avoid bare earth by planting close together. Having a full garden reduces water loss as the surface soil retains more water when covered with plant material. If you are worried about things becoming overgrown over time, you can fill the gaps with short lived plants such as parsley and lettuce or annual flowers
Plant with lots of organic matter in the soil. A well balanced compost, sheep pellets or even sphagnum moss will help to retain water around the roots. Not only does organic matter create a healthy environment for your plants root systems it also acts like a sponge that holds water in the soil for longer. Soils low in organic matter can suffer two issues. Either the water doesn’t even make it into the soil and runs straight off, or the soil runs quickly through (this is especially so in sandy soils). Organic matter also helps distribute water evenly.
Mulching is the process of covering the soil that reduces water loss and also helps with weed control. What we mulch with depends on the type of garden we have. For fast growing plants such as vegetables use softer mulch such as pea straw that will break down into the soil quickly and double as a soil conditioner. For trees and shrubs and borders, bark mulch will last longer and yet will still assist soil quality as it does decompose. Wherever you have bare soil you should mulch. Even if you are the most hands off gardener this is the most important task to do at least once, although ideally twice a year. Soil left bare becomes hot and dries out quickly. It is also not as healthy, as exposed soil does not have the same levels of microbial activity as soil with a covering, be it bark, newspaper, leaf litter or pea straw.
Trees planted in autumn months should be watered as little as possible, and when they are watered they should be given long deep waters that encourage their roots to search for nutrients. This will encourage the tree to get its roots deep down into the water table and will give you a better, healthier tree in the long term. Trees planted in the early spring will need to be watered more frequently as they have not developed their deep roots yet. They also are better to be watered less often and more deeply. There are various opinions about when to water and when to not, but the consensus is that at the start of the day and in the evening reduces the amount of water loss from transpiration and evaporation. This said, it is better to water a plant that is stressed or wilting when you notice it.
Watering to the roots is most effective but after long periods of heat I do give my garden an occasional wash down and I swear it loves it. Plants can absorb water directly through their leaves and I suspect it helps them cool off too. You might also notice though that your garden looks extra green and lush after a lightning storm. This is because the lightening actually releases nitrogen in the air which combined with rain acts as a foliage feed straight to the plants leaves.