We have been having glorious holiday weather over the last few weeks. The long hot sultry days of summer finally made an appearance and for my kids it has been a good long stretch of shorts and bare feet, BBQs, swimming, and lazy afternoons avoiding the heat of the day. My eldest informed me that the forecast 26 degrees Celsius last week was "not that hot" as she had been getting upwards of 36 degrees on her holiday in Central Otago. By most of the worlds standards she would be right - 26 Celsius isn't all that hot. But when we consider that here in Dunedin, we tend to enjoy a far more moderate and temperate climate, and that we have had much lower than average rain fall this year, we can easily see the garden showing some signs of distress during the heat of the day. As does the gardener! So what can we do to help alleviate this stress?
Read the signs and understand what your plants are telling you.
Yellowing and browning leaves are a classic sign of stress - it can indicate that the plant is not receiving the nutrients it needs. Plants need water for cell development and growth, and to transport nutrients throughout the plant. If there is not adequate water in the soil or potting mix then these nutrients are no longer accessible and the plant starts to suffer.
Overly stressed plants can then become a target for insects and disease as we can see here on a juvenile Kaka Beak that has become home to leaf miner.
Pick your time to garden and water
On those white hot summer afternoons, when the sun is high in the sky and there is not a cloud to be seen you are probably best to take a short break from the gardening, at least until the heat of the day begins to wane. Not only is it physically more difficult on your body, but the plants are already struggling to retain their moisture. When we start disturbing the soil it allows even more of that precious moisture to escape. I find the best time to garden is early morning when things are still fresh and dewy. It is far easier to pull weeds from damp soil than from the hard dry baked stuff of afternoons. Once the weeds are removed, a thorough soaking with the hose will set the garden right to cope with any extreme temperatures. If you can't manage this in the morning - then the next best time is early evening.
Preserve your water and protect your soil
I have said it before but it is so important that it bears repeating - you must protect your soil from the elements if it is to stay healthy and alive. Particularly with productive food cropping gardens where we are removing the plants on a regular basis. When we remove these plants we are effectively removing their stored nutrients from the soil. Over time without replenishment this ground would struggle to support life adequately. We need to remember that organic matter must be replaced and soil must be covered to allow it to stay vital and well functioning. Soil that has a high level of organic matter, and a diverse community of organisms will retain moisture far more readily than an arid and lifeless patch of ground. Mother nature will continuously try to correct our wrongs and will send weeds up to do this job if necessary. Mulching is one of the easiest ways to achieve this, it keeps the weeds down longer and holds moisture better than an uncovered garden. Just remember that for best results you should weed first, then water well before adding the mulch.
The number one tip I have for gardeners in the summer is this: enjoy your garden!
We can get so caught up in the daily grind and lists of things to do that we sometimes forget to just stop, observe, breathe, and absorb, all the beautiful and wondrous things that gardening has to offer. What better time than in summer to sit back with a cold drink and enjoy what we have helped to create. In light of that here are a few photos of the lovely bits of colour to be found in my garden this month. Happy gardening!
I'm Kimberley, and I live in the beautiful South Island of New Zealand. I am very passionate about growing strong healthy plants that enrich us and our environment. Welcome to my place - feel free to look around!