Hey, there, Australia! It’s hot! If winter chill is hard on plants, you can bet that summer heat is too. The challenge? Drought! Here’s how it works. Plants are a bit like straws, with the sun being the one sucking up the moisture. The roots absorb water. The leaves give up their water to the sun, and that makes the roots thristier. The last thing you want is the (silent) plant equivalent of hitting the bottom of the glass.
That means keeping the soil moist. But there’s good news. If you use the right tactics, you won’t have to water as often, and your plants will be just fine. Boost your gardening success and reduce your water demand with these environmentally- appropriate practices.
The deep watering principle applies throughout the year. If you’re going to water at all, water properly. The logic is easy. A superficially wet soil might look moist, but it isn’t giving plant roots what they want because plant roots don’t grow on the soil’s surface. On the other hand, watering superficially can encourage superficial roots, and since the soil’s surface dries out first, it makes your plants more vulnerable to drought.
No matter what you grow, water deeply. Not sure how much watering that means? Time to get your hands dirty! There’s nothing to beat pushing your finger deep into the soil to feel where the moisture is. Nice manicure? You can buy water sensors to do the job for you.
Water Early or Late
Early mornings are the best time to water. Late afternoons are the second-best. The middle of the day is the worst time to water unless you think the sun is thirstier than your plants are and want to give it a drink! On big lots or smallholdings, you mightn’t have an alternative. Your watering schedule takes all day no matter what you do, but most of us will find early or late watering convenient enough for a home garden.
My favorite? A tall glass of something cold in one hand, and the hosepipe in the other. It’s a great way to end the day. Try it!
Use a Wetting Agent if Needed
Have you ever seen water running off the top of your soil while nothing seems to go in? That’s a sure waste of water, and it occurs when your soil becomes “hydrophobic” for any one of several reasons. Solve it by using a wetting agent. There’s no need to run off to your nearest garden center for one: the best and most effective wetting agent is probably waiting for you on the kitchen sink.
Dishwashing liquid is awesome as a wetting agent that lets water penetrate soil that’s inclined to shrug it off. Use about a teaspoonful per 10 liter watering can and sprinkle your soil with the mixture a few minutes before you water. Your plants will thank you!
Ditch the Irrigation System (Or At least, Maintain It)
I have a love-hate relationship with irrigation systems, and even garden sprinklers. The water distribution is almost never even, a popped pipe or nozzle when you’re not watching can mean massive water waste, and you’re almost sure to lovingly irrigate pathways, driveways and other things that you didn’t really want to water in the first place. The best watering is hand watering, and I’ll grant you the hosepipe unless your patch is really small and a watering can will do.
If you can’t live without your irrigation system (and on farms, I couldn’t) vigilance is key. Look for blocked emitters, leaks, and poor water distribution patterns. And yes, watch your irrigation while it’s on if it’s at all possible to do so.
Mulch Mulch Mulch
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Mulch is a gardener’s best friend. A layer on top of your soil to protect it from the sun and limit evaporation is going to save you a lot of water, cool the soil, keep weeds down, encourage soil fauna (think earthworms) and, if it’s organic mulch, improve soil structure in the longer term.
Mulch can be anything, from garden sheeting that lets water through to grass clippings, bark chips, sawdust, or cobble stones. I still like grass clippings, even though they tend to matt up and can sometimes end up repelling water as a result. If you’re alert, you’ll see any issues right away, and grass clippings are free.
Good Soil Preparation
Sandy soils are very prone to drying out. Clay soils easily become waterlogged. What you’re looking for is the middle ground, and the answer, in both instances, is compost. You can grow veggies without good soil preparation, but you’ll work harder to get leaner results.
Before you plant, work in compost, and repeat the process every year because compost breaks down over time and needs replacing. Let’s add compost to our list of gardening besties and remember that friendship is a long-term thing. And since all soils like compost, it’s an easy call. Just do it!
A Little Bit of Shade
Most veggie crops require full sun, but most of them won’t mind a 30 percent shade net in the hottest times of the year. If you don’t want to build shade structures, and most gardeners won’t, light dappled shade under trees will do the same job. In winter, when light intensity is lower, you won’t be able to use the shady spots for sun-lovers, but in summer, they could be the answer you’re looking for.
Another clever plan is to plant tall, more drought tolerant veg varieties like corn or okra with lower-growing, more water-loving plants in the shade they create. That way, you get the benefit of shading without having to move your veggie patch.
Choose Heat-Loving, Drought Tolerant Veg
Choosing veggie crops that actually like hot, dry conditions is a sensible strategy although it will limit the variety of things you can grow in summer. Examples include tomatoes, corn, amaranth, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, summer beans, artichokes and okra. Chances are, they’ll still need a bit of water to help them along, but they won’t be all that sensitive drought and stand a good chance of handling hot, dry spells.
Water is a Limited Resource: Be Water Smart
It’s like a miracle. You open the tap, and something drinkable comes out. It’s all-too-easy to take water for granted when its supply is so convenient. Let’s remember just how precious drinkable water is. Conserving water is good for the environment and therefore good for you. Water smart gardening practices will reduce the amount of work you need to get a harvest while boosting your results and being good for the world you live in – and you get succulent veg into the bargain. What could be better?