Phew, it’s getting hot in here! But that’s no reason to leave your garden high and dry this summer. Soaring hot temperatures cause plants to suffer moisture stress, and as a result, burn or wilt, aka lose water from stems and leaves. This kind of stress can be a major setback to growth, or worse, be a complete setback if they keel over and die.
Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to protect your plants this summer. Here’s how.
One of the easiest ways to help protect your plants from the heat is to move them into a shadier spot. For those who don’t have a sheltered area or if you have plants in garden beds that can’t be moved, erect a shade cloth. It doesn’t need to be fancy or fastened to building foundations. All you need to do is secure the corners of the shade cloth to star pickets or stakes with cable ties, then hammer the stakes into the ground or insert the footings into sturdy pots. A 50 per cent shade cloth is ideal for sun protection, especially for sensitive plants like leafy greens and tomatoes.
We all know plants need water to survive, but did you know the timing of the water matters too? When hot weather is expected, it’s best to water your plants early in the morning, while it’s still cool. This means less water is likely to be lost due to evaporation and plants will also be able to draw on these reserves throughout the day.
How you water is equally as important. A light drizzle with the hose is only going to wet the surface of the soil, so the roots remain bone dry. When watering, ensure it’s a good, deep water so it penetrates the soil and gets to the roots. Also, direct the water to the soil, not the plant, otherwise it’s just going to sit on the foliage and evaporate.
TIP! If prolonged hot weather is expected, water plants with a diluted seaweed solution in the days leading up to the heat event. This will help reduce heat stress and will assist with recovery too.
Lock in the moisture
Moisture loss occurs in stems and leaves, but it also happens to the soil too. If the soil dries out, there’s no water for plants to draw on. Help reduce soil moisture loss by covering the soil with a layer of organic mulch, like pea straw, sugar cane mulch or pine bark. Mulch acts as a physical barrier to stop the soil from drying out, keeping it cool and moist.
Using an organic mulch is ideal – as it breaks down, it adds valuable nutrients to the soil, unlike inorganic mulches (stones, gravel), which are purely decorative and do nothing for the soil.
Soak it up
Have you ever noticed water pooling on the surface of the soil? Or that it runs down the side of the pot, without actually being absorbed into the soil below? If this is happening to your plants, it means your soil has become hydrophobic or water repellent. A waxy layer forms on the surface of the soil and causes the water to simply pool or eventually run-off – so your plants are essentially dying of thirst, despite your best efforts!
To fix this, you need a soil wetter. It’s available in a liquid or granular format, so it’s easy to apply to your pots or garden beds. The soil wetter breaks up the waxy layer and allows the water to go to where it’s needed most – the roots.
Plants have a version of ‘sunscreen’ that you can apply to reduce moisture loss and sunburn. It’s called DroughtShield, made by the good people at Yates. The spray is applied to the foliage, which coats the leaves in a clear, protective polymer film to lessen the damaging effects of the sun. It is said to prevent water loss by up to 50 per cent! Don’t worry, it’s biodegradable and only lasts for up to 90 days, so it’s safe for use on all plants.
Just like we don’t rely solely on sunscreen, applying DroughtShield isn’t a one-stop solution. Use it in conjunction with a shade cloth, efficient watering techniques, and mulch to help reduce the overall effects of the summer sun.