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Summer at your place

Hydrangea
Hydrangea spells summer with their mop-heads of blue, mauve (pictured), pink or white. Keep them well watered for a long display.

In all areas, summer means heat accompanied either by humidity or dry, moisture-sapping air. While some plants come under stress, others launch into luxuriant growth and produce brilliant flowers. This is the season to enjoy being outdoors so it’s time to make your garden summer friendly. In this extract from her recently published book, Garden, Jennifer Stackhouse has tips about what to do in your garden this season.

Top jobs for summer

  • Watering – especially new plantings, vegies and container plants.
  • Top up swimming pools and water features.
  • Clean filters on taps and pumps.
  • Reduce breeding places for mosquitoes by emptying water.
  • Hang flytraps to reduce bush and blow fly numbers.
  • Check daily for pests in plants.
  • Formulate a bushfire plan and be bushfire prepared.

WATERING

Watering is vital during summer when temperatures are high. To make the most of water, apply it to plants in the early morning. Soak around the root systems of plants, particularly those in bloom or budding. To reduce water loss, shade plants that are prone to wilting such as hydrangeas. Regularly check watering systems for blockages — one blocked jet could lead to a dead plant. Clean and refresh water for wildlife and pets.

MULCHING

Refresh mulch with a few shovelfuls of aged manure, especially under camellias, roses, hydrangeas and citrus trees. Lightly fork to reduce compaction and to allow watering and rain to penetrate. As part of bushfire preparation, remove combustible mulches and debris to create a firebreak. Replace with inorganic material such as gravel, sand or recycled glass.

FERTILISING

Feed plants that flower profusely such as hibiscus, roses and annuals every month. Also liquid feed summer vegies. Use a fertiliser formulated for flowering and fruiting plants and feed leafy and productive every 7–14 days. Also feed palms and foliage plants. In warm areas with heavy rain, feed lawns to maintain vigorous green growth.

PRUNING AND TRAINING

Prune late spring- and summer-flowering plants as they finish blooming including bottlebrush, grevilleas and wattle. Leave some native plants to seed for birds to feast on. Prune invasive or whippy growth on wisteria. Tie up wayward climbers and summer-prune roses in mid summer. Groom plants to remove dead, chewed or patchy leaves. Thin immature fruit on apples and pears to get fewer but bigger fruit at harvest.

CLEANING

Sweep up fallen leaves and add them to the compost or leaf bin. Clean out gutters regularly. Check and empty filters on rainwater tanks. Remove piles of rubbish or debris to get rid of hiding spots for spiders. Do a Christmas clean up to make your garden ready for entertaining or just for relaxing with your family. Clean out cubbyhouses and check all play equipment before kids begin to use it — for example, inside the handlebars of tricycles.

OUTDOOR LIVING

Top up swimming pools to compensate for daily summer evaporation. Skim pools regularly to remove fallen leaves and other debris. Check pools before swimming for insects such as funnel-webs and reptiles including snakes and lizards. Cover pools if they are not being used but check under the cover frequently. When high winds or storms are forecast, move lightweight outdoor furniture under shelter. Clean barbecues regularly after use. Turn off gas bottles. Make sure wood fires are completely out after use.

PONDS AND WATER FEATURES

Top up water features regularly to avoid pumps running dry. Turn off fountains on windy days. Skim algae and weeds from ponds — add what you collect to the compost heap. Include small native fish in ponds to deal with mosquito larvae. Plant water and bog plants in and around your pond to shade water that contains fish or frogs.

LAWNS AND EDGES

In all but the driest regions where lawn growth may have stopped, mow lawns each week. Trim grass around trees, paths, garden beds and fence lines. When mowing or trimming near tree trunks and shrubs, avoid damaging bark. Use a tree guard to protect the trunk.

POTS AND CONTAINERS

Move potted plants to cooler or shaded locations on hot days. Water containerised plants daily – don’t rely on rainfall. On heatwave days take down hanging baskets, water them then group in a sheltered spot.

WEEDING

Remove dry weeds that could provide fuel for fires. Keep long grasses mown especially near homes, play areas or paths to reduce habitat for snakes. Throw green weeds on the compost. Soak weeds with seeds, corms or bulbs in water for a week to stop them regrowing.

OTHER CHORES

  • Cut wood and dry in preparation for winter fires.
  •  Check and empty all water containers to reduce breeding areas for mosquitoes. Also check cups on bromeliads for wrigglers in water.
  •  Fill pot plant saucers with sand or gravel to reduce water levels.

SUMMER TIPS FOR THE TROPICS

While many tasks are universal, tropical gardeners have some extra garden chores to attend to. Summer marks the peak of the wet season. It can be hot, humid and very wet.

  • General Check plants for caterpillars and grasshoppers frequently. Moulds can be rampant in humid summers. Remove affected leaves regularly, and treat susceptible plants with potassium-based fungicide.
  • Vegies Liquid feed leafy vegies. Hand-pollinate vegetable flowers if they are failing to form fruit. Maintain fruit fly baits.
  • Fruit Protect ripening fruit from birds. Watch for leaf-eating beetles including figleaf (squash eggs, spray adults).
  • Container plants Keep pots slightly elevated and cool. Protect dry loving plants from heavy summer rains.
  • Propagation Grow cuttings of perennials and shrubs. Use prunings to make more plants.
Jennifer Stackhouse
HORTICULTURISTJennifer Stackhouse is a horticulturist, garden writer, blogger and editor, who lives on a small property at Kurmond in NSW with her family, dogs, chooks and the neighbour’s horses. She is highly respected by gardeners around Australia and a popular speaker. She is a regular garden commentator on ABC Local Radio across Australia. Her new book, simply titled Garden, has just been released to help everyone to maintain their bit of green.Check out Jennifer’s website www.jenniferstackhouse.com