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!