As summer is creeping up on us quickly and the last of the spring days are proving to be warm ones, your plants will need a little extra attention to get them through the fiery afternoons. Here are some hot tips to protect your plants through the summer months.
Keep the plants moist
Give the plants a deep watering before the sun comes up. This will enable the plants to take up moisture and be more resistant to the heat of the day. A top-up of water when the sun goes down doesn’t go astray if the plants have suffered and are beginning to droop. Dripper irrigation systems can be put on a timer that waters automatically and delivers water straight to the ground where it is needed. Prevent watering during the hottest parts of the day to avoid scalding the leaves, or opt for afternoon fine mist sprays for the soft-leaved plants.
Mulch the ground
It is a good idea to protect the soil with a layer of mulch, which will reduce evaporation from the soil surface and reduce the temperature of the topsoil, in turn preventing desiccation. Companion planting (locating smaller plants within the cover of taller neighbours) can have a similar effect, just be sure to avoid overcrowding.
Protection such as white shade cloth with a minimum of 50 % shading can be the extra help a plant needs on a hot day. If you can’t spring for such extravagance, old curtains or sheets can do the trick. The shade cloth can be mounted over stakes, walls or fences (or any other structure you can find from the Alice Springs Rediscovery Centre – get creative!). Keep in mind that this time of year also brings strong winds and dust storms, so make sure you fasten the items securely to prevent disaster. The side of raised beds can be protected from the direct sun by planting some hardy local natives around the edge that have dense foliage and a height to suit the purpose (or prune them appropriately so they grow in the desired fashion), such as various Eremophila species. To give potted plants some extra shade, consider moving them under a verandah, or even inside for periods of time.
Increase Wind Protection
The summer afternoons can increase the chance of strong thermals forming and therefore wind gusts, which can dry out the garden beds. Consider installing some hedge protection or fencing that will provide wind protection, avoiding metal sheet fences that will radiate heat onto the nearest plants.
Choose the right plants
Get a head start and plant local native species, which are accustomed to growing in the harsh central Australian conditions. This will mean your efforts to protect them can be minimal and they will provide habitat that is suited to the local wildlife. It’s also wise to think ahead and group the plants according to water needs, so that plants with high water requirements are grouped together and irrigated more often.
Keep cool Land for Wildlifers!
Garden for Wildlife signs around Alice Springs stand out for their colour – containing a representation of the Rainbow bee-eater (Merops ornatus). This week marked the first sighting of the Rainbow bee-eater for this spring! Winter has been quiet without their scissor-grinder trill, but it seems a few individuals have returned. The seasonal movement patterns of Rainbow Bee-eaters are complex and understanding their movements is a work in progress.
While northern Australian populations are resident throughout the year, there may be some movement from riparian breeding areas to more open areas for the non-breeding season. Southern populations, on the other hand, are migratory and travel north to Australia’s top end, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia for the Australian winter. Movement begins in February following the breeding season and they remain in warmer climates until the southern-Australia weather begins to warm in October. Central Australian populations also seem to head north from mid-April to early September, though Alice Springs residents may see individuals passing through from southern regions until June.
Southward movements begin in late August, passing over the Timor Sea, Arafura Sea or Torres Straight in their passage home. Migrating flocks travel high above the ground while on passage, with populations assembling before migration and travelling in groups of hundreds or more. Read more on the seasonal movements and habitat of Rainbow Bee-eaters at the Australian Government website.
As August wraps up, Land for Wildlife members should be looking to have any wildflower seedlings in the ground ready for the new growth that spring brings. There has been some significantly frosty weather of late so seedlings could remain protected for another couple of weeks until the warmth sets in. In the wildlife arena, caterpillars will become more active and you may see some damage to plants. If this begins to annoy you, remember to admire their role in the ecosystem: caterpillars transform into butterflies and moths, which are important pollinators of native plants. Damage from hungry caterpillars is usually temporary and the emerging variety of moths/butterflies is a great reward for your patience. Wanting to attract caterpillars to your garden? Check out this useful resource from the Australian Plants Society Inc.
This caterpillar was spotted at Ellery Creek Big Hole in the West MacDonnell Ranges earlier in the year. It appears to be the larvae of a Hawk Moth (Sphingidae Family), though which of the 65 Australian species it belongs is unknown to us at the moment. It was found feeding on the leaves of Smooth Spiderbush (Clerodendrum floribundum) to the edge of the waterhole. One species of Hawk Moth or Tar Vine Caterpillar in Arrernte is ‘Yeperenye / Yipirinya’ and is the focal piece of Jukurrpa (Dreaming) for Mparntwe (Alice Springs) Arrernte, along with ‘Ntyarlke’ (Elephant Grub) and ‘Utnerrengatye’ (Emu Bush Grub). Listen to the Yipirinya Jukurrpa or learn about other stories in A Town Like Mparntwe.
The warmer weather will also bring out more reptiles, such as Central Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) and Sand Goannas (Varanus gouldii)… among others! Be sure to take care on the roads to prevent accidental flattening of reptiles when they are sunning themselves (I’ve noticed quite a few victims this week following warm mornings). This Central Bearded Dragon was found near the Land for Wildlife office a couple of weeks ago. Following the removal of a tick, it went on its way to a sunny area for some basking.
Enjoy the warmer weather and get out planting some natives! Not sure what to plant? Head down to the Alice Springs Nursery on Saturday 27th of August for their event ‘Spring into Spring’ to grab some local natives and visit the Land for Wildlife / Garden for Wildlife stall to ask us about your vegetation type.
Land for Wildlife was invited out to the Ntaria Junior Rangers Camp with the Tjuwanpa Women Rangers last week. The Tjuwanpa Women Rangers care for country, managing fire, feral animals and weeds, at the Finke Gorge National Park. Their aim is to have “Akarkutja Warnka Mabaka Kaltjithika”, which means “older women and younger women all learning together” (ABC). Part of this aim is to work with the Ntaria Junior Rangers and encourage other groups to get involved in teaching the younger generation about the importance of managing country appropriately.
The Ntaria Junior Rangers camped at Palm Valley and the team from ABC Back Roads were there to document their learning journey. Land for Wildlife spoke to the group about the changing world, as part of their current curriculum – covering topics such as extreme weather and human-induced changes to the environment. We were also lucky to have been involved with a story-telling session by a Ntaria ‘Tjilpi‘ the previous night, given in both Arrernte and English.
Alice Springs residents were shocked on Friday 17th June 2016, when a large hail storm hit the town. The storm raised a lot of excitement, but the damage to infrastructure was very clear. As far as our gardens go, hail can damage plants by sheer force of their fall, or through accumulation of weight to limbs. Hailstones can cause leaves to become shredded or pock-marked. Hail can be damaging to vegetables and decimate harvests; and large rainfall events can cause citrus to expand to bursting point. For trees, their stems can split or break, especially when hail storms are combined with strong winds and lightening (as we saw last week). In addition to visually obvious damage, plants affected by hail are more susceptible to disease, pests and rot.
The severity to which our gardens are affected by hail depends on the type of plants, as well as the force and size of the hailstones; though seedlings and plants with fresh shoots are the most affected by hail. Thankfully, the hailstorm arrived in the middle of June, when plant growth rates are slow and repair is achievable. Garden for Wildlife has some tips on how to care for hail-damaged plants:
• Trim off broken stems, branches and leaves. Pruning will help your plants to invest energy to regrowth, rather than damage repair. For trees, prune away the most affected branches and remove limbs that have severe gouges or tears.
• Remove damaged fruits to avoid pests.
• Apply fertiliser (liquid or compost tea) to the impacted plants, as this will provide the plants with the nutrition necessary to stimulate regrowth and bring on new foliage.
• Apply fungicide to prevent rot from entering plant wounds before they are able to seal.
• Keep an eye out for any early signs of pest or disease and treat accordingly.
• Place a layer of mulch around the base of the plants. Mulch will help protect the plants from any cold weather that follows and soil compaction from further storms, as well as help to retain water needed to regrow.
When hail storms or frost is forecast, take the following steps to help protect your plants from further damage:
• Place plastic sleeve tree guards, buckets, garbage cans or other items over plants or use a tarp over the vegetable garden like a tent: This creates a layer of still air and reduces wind chill.
• Relocate potted plants to protected areas (e.g. the verandah).
• Tie the leaves of tufted plants together to protect the growing point.
• Use a pressure sprayer to mist water over stone-fruit flowers and shoots just before sunset, as this freezes into a protective film of ice.
Don’t forget that local native plants, specific to your area, will be hardier than other native or ornamental plants (they’ve adapted to local growing conditions). By choosing the right plants for your block (check out the Vegetation Maps on our website), you can create a self-sustaining garden that will naturally fight back with minimal effort from you. Good luck!