Each year our pot plants, vegetable gardens and lawns are destroyed by the searing Australian summer sun.
We spoke to Dr David Beardsell, a horticultural botanist and lecturer in plant science at Melbourne University, for some advice on how to save your plants from this fate.
Whether its preventative measures you can take now while the temperature is lower, or procedures to follow during a heatwave, there’s a lifeline for every lawn, herb garden and veggie patch.
Be smart about what you put your plants in.
It’s common knowledge that a black car will heat up faster than a white one, and it’s the same when talking about plant pots. Avoid dark or plastic pots that heat up in the sun and dry out, as well as clay pots, which draw moisture from the soil and retain heat for long periods of time. Wooden containers provide great insulation for the plant’s roots during summer and are an easy DIY project. Or, you can look into self-watering pots that ensure a plant is consistently hydrated. As for your hanging baskets, they dry out very quickly, so make sure to move them to a cool, dark place during a heatwave.
Find good mulch.
What surrounds your plants has a huge effect on their health and can be used to your advantage. There’s a range of mulches out there, but organic and chunkier types will be best for allowing water to penetrate the soil and add nutrients. Mulch made of Pine Bark will help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature during the summer, and will also reduce weed growth.
Find an empty bottle.
Plants need a constant supply of water to survive, which means more than just a hose down once a day when the thermometer hits 40 degrees. For indoor plants, pots can be put into trays of water and kept in a cool, dark place. For outdoor plants, including those in pots, try filling an empty wine bottle with water and pushing it into the ground upside down next to the plants or into their pots. This will ensure the plant has a steady water supply that doesn’t evaporate under the heat of the sun. It’s a quick fix that will last a few days.
Water at night.
Watering your plants at night allows time for the soil to absorb the moisture. In a heat wave it’s easy to think any water is helpful, but if the sun is hot enough it’ll just dry the water right off the plants, or potentially heat up the water and burn the plant.
Add extra shade.
Hang up a shade cloth on the west side of your garden to shield your plants from the afternoon sun. This could simply be a recycled sheet or a tarp you have lying around, to add that extra bit of protection for your plants when the sun hits them directly. Long-term, planting tall, sun-loving plants such as sunflowers in front of the smaller ones will add protection, or grow a heat-tolerant vine on a trellis that can be placed in front of your plant beds during summer.