As we enter the season of abundance (zucchini and beans anyone?) it becomes obvious how vitally plants need water, and how gratefully they respond. Water makes the difference between a luxuriant lemon tree and a sad, twiggy one; or crisp, delicious lettuce and yellowing, bitter ones; for plants, water is their lifeblood.
This is the time of year when gardeners reap what we sow in more ways than one. Fruiting plants like plums, peaches, zucchini, cucumbers, beans and tomatoes can be producing on a daily basis. Beds that were set up well with plenty of compost, sub-ground irrigation (eg bottles and seep hoses) and deep layers of mulch are breezing through the heat. Areas with thin soil, no shade and no preparation for water will be suffering. How did you do this year? Is there anything you’d do differently? Take stock of your garden and note any changes you want to make or plants you want to move in autumn.
Waterwise gardening doesn't mean not watering your garden. With the cost of water currently at around $1 per 1,000 litres, growing veges won't break the bank for most people. But it pays to think before you turn on the sprinklers. Target your watering: newly planted things need daily attention, especially in hot weather, while established shrubs and perennials should be more self-sufficient. Mulch well to make the most of the water you use.
It’s a bit like the `Slip, Slop, Slap’ approach to sun protection - a combination of things will protect your garden from drying out. If you think of bare soil as unprotected skin, the slop (sunscreen) would be mulch. Late summer is the time when you really notice the difference between mulched and unmulched soil. Under a layer of mulch, plant roots will still be able to find some water.
Slap on a hat? A bit of shade makes a big difference to plants, especially from the midday sun. Carefully placed deciduous trees or vines can keep veges and lawns green over the heat of summer (while also keeping humans cool). And the ‘slip’ part or the equation could be wind protection. Wind can be as drying as sun (just think of your washing on the line), so giving your plants shelter can be as good as watering them.
A combination of actions, small in themselves, add up to a waterwise garden.
Plant: Late beans, basil, zucchini, lettuce, red onions, leeks.
Sow: Carrots, beetroot, fennel (direct – water these well); kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower (in trays, protected from white butterflies), calendula, alyssum, lettuce, green manures (sprinkle seeds of lupin, phacelia, buckwheat or mustard into any bare spaces as you pull up summer crops.)
- Pop in more zucchini and dwarf beans, as these hard-working plants will likely run out of steam before we run out of warm weather
- Winter crops: Time to start preparing beds for brassicas, and get sowing if you want to grow from seed. Leeks also need to go in pronto if you want them fat by winter.
- Lettuce and other salad greens do best with a bit of shade in the heat of summer
- Summer-prune grapes (back to two leaves beyond the bunches of fruit), and stonefruit trees once the fruit are gone. Pruning stonefruit in late summer avoids the risk of silverleaf spores infecting wounds.
- Prune out any unwanted, unproductive upright growth in apples and pears.
- Set the lawnmower higher over summer so grass roots don’t get so stressed out.
- Check compost is wet, and water if needed.
- Prepare beds and get seeds for autumn-sown fennel, peas and broad beans.