As I write this we have just barely entered summer and yet many places around Australia are already sweltering in >30°C heatwaves. Such extreme heat fluctuations can really cause havoc on a garden but there are a few ways to minimise the damage and help your garden thrive.
Mulch is undoubtedly the single greatest thing you can do for your garden in my opinion. It holds moisture in the soil, gives a shady cool place for worms to come visit and leave behind nutrients for your plants, it improves your soil quality, even helping to transform clay and sandy soil into beautiful loam soil over time. The greatest thing is mulch doesn’t have to be expensive. You can use grass clippings (as is my preferred mulch just due to the sheer quantity we have), shredded bark, sugarcane, leaves, cardboard, basically anything organic, the thicker and more varied the better in my opinion.
2. Watering Methods
Watering plants isn’t quite as simple as watering the plants, particularly if you have mulch in your yard. In long dry periods where mulch dries out you could spend significant time watering your garden only to just dampen the mulch leaving very little to get to the roots of the plants. There are a few methods to combat this, such as once a week deep soaking, using ollas or drip methods. The essential technique is to water below the mulch which traps the moisture where the plant can utilise it.
3. Watering Timing
Timing is also important for watering plants. While it is tempting to water when a plant seems wilted in the midday heat, it can lead to sunburn damage at worst and the water evaporating before its beneficial to the plants at best. Hold off on watering your plants until morning or early evening when evaporation will be at a minimum.
4. The Right Plants and Timing
Sometimes you cannot rely on common sense knowledge of plants being grown in summer or winter. In subtropical areas we generally have a wider growing season than that of colder or warmer climates. However as we seem to be encountering more warm days it would be wise to plant suitable plants for our conditions. For example I know many people are opting to grow more perennials over annuals as they generally have deeper roots which give them a bit of an edge over shallow roots which dry out and get overheated easier.
Shade is an interesting gardening point to me as I often see ‘full sun’ recommended for most plants I have purchased however full sun at different latitudes feels completely different and often people in my local area erect shade cloth over their veggie patches to protect their plants from the harshest sun. Shade can come in the artificial forms of shade cloth or natural form of utilising shade provided by trees or buildings or even larger hardier annuals. Another option is growing hardy shrubs in pots and relocating them around your garden depending on your needs in summer or winter.
6. Build Your Soil Health
As a long term goal improving your soil health is always key. Healthy soil holds more moisture without becoming waterlogged. This ties in with mulching but also utilising things like biochar which improves soil structure and gives a large surface area for water to get trapped in within the soil as a little resevoir.
7. Water for Wildlife
Don’t forget while your garden is struggling so too are the wildlife including beneficial insects that usually help your garden to thrive! Snakes sometimes come closer to houses in heatwavest to try and find a water source (often in a convenient dog bowl!). Birds too struggle in the heat and benefit from some water they can splash in to cool off in.
8. Trial and Error
As always I don’t believe any one method is failproof. I offer a few suggestions here for you to trial but by no means are my suggestions the only ones out there. See what other locals in your area do, try a few things and make a note of what you find most beneficial and within your means to replicate as necessary in future years.
I hope you find some benefit from my suggestions. If I’ve missed something that works for you let me know!