We’ve just been through some record hot December weather so I am reposting here the Facebook posts for those of you not on Facebook.
THE HARDEST THING IN GARDENING
Gardeners are always making choices and in my opinion one of the most difficult and important is when and how much to water. With a little experience you learn to read the signs that a plant is thirsty and you give it the water it needs before it wilts. The last week with a record breaking 5 days in a row over 40 at the beginning of summer was a severe test. How did your garden survive? Given enough water it’s amazing how pretty much anything will survive even the extreme conditions of the last week. I’ll let you in on a little secret: the only thing that Joe and I have disagreements about is how much water to put on the garden. I think he doesn’t water enough but to be fair I probably water too much. It’s agonisingly difficult to get it just right. Of course one conserves water and doesn’t waste it. We have a number of large tanks but they are often empty when we most need it so there’s no alternative than to use mains water which is very expensive.
But you paid good money for your plants and there are probably some favourite old friends who reward you each year with luscious fruit. For me personally, it’s criminal to skimp on water when a dollar or so of water could well save a precious tree. Gardening is a kind of hobby although for many people it’s a way of life. People think nothing of paying obscene amounts of money to go to a football match or some other interest yet hesitate to give their plants a decent water. Also, if you are growing food the savings on your food bill are considerable and you will still be out in front even with generous watering.
Much of our gardens are drippered but it pays to do an inspection every few days as some plants suffer more than others and might need a top up by hand. You might find a plant that is a good “bell wether” for you thus a reminder to get watering. I find strawberries are a great indication on how things are going as they soon wilt and then go brown and toast quite quickly. A few years ago I lost 90% of them during a 15 day heatwave but I’ve since learnt to water little and often and there’s not as much as one brown leaf. The picture was taken during this heatwave and you can see how perky and happy they look. Believe me, I am as surprised as you as these plants are in full sun.
In case you were wondering, given that I am prone to going into raptures about hot weather, YES, it was too hot this week even for me! One last thing to watch for in prolonged heatwaves is sudden drop of all the fruit on a stone fruit tree. Wednesday night the Santa Rosa plum was loaded and I got a friend to help herself as there were plenty left on the tree. Thursday night they were pretty much all on the ground cooking and rotting – such a shame!
WATERING YOUR POTS
Like all things in life there are pros and cons to gardening in containers. Growing in pots has one HUGE advantage: if they are small enough you can move them under a tree or veranda to protect them from the sun when you know heatwave weather is coming. Old sheets and curtains can be used in the yard for sensitive plants. The big disadvantage is that pots can only hold a small amount of water and the smaller the pot, the bigger the problem. I can tell you about a mistake I made in my early learning years of gardening. When it rained I thought great, no need to water for a few days. And everything kept dying, especially the very many camellias I had bought (in the days before I got into growing food mainly). When I took them back to the big B (I know, shame on me, I should have supported a small nursery but was very ignorant in those days) to claim my replacement part to my amazement when it was empties out of the pot it was bone dry at the roots, only having a thin layer of moisture on the top. Last night the BOM site says we got 3.6 ml of rain so if you stick your finger into the pot you will find it is mostly dry. It seems most gardeners are euphoric today that the heavens have released a few drops and the temperature has dropped. Yes, take the day off today but don’t neglect to water again soon as there’s more heat coming at the end of the week although mercifully not so long and extreme. Make friends with the BOM site which is usually amazingly accurate despite the scorn people like to heap on the weather bureau. It’s always better to water before the heat event rather than after trying to rescue a dying plant.
On the topic of pots, a couple more caveats. Roots can get fertiliser burn and salt toxicity unless adequately watered but fertiliser is also easily washed out with frequent watering. Better to fertilise half strength and more often and watch for damage. Not sure what we can do about the other scourge – the ubiquitous black plastic pot. Why they were not made in white is a mystery to me but black absorbs and holds on to heat more than any other colour. I am open to correction on this from those with proper horticultural training but I have heard that most plant roots cook around 37 degrees. Also the temperature in the pot is around 10 degrees higher than the ambient temperature so pots in the sun would have been up around 50 degrees last week. Unfortunately, water is the only answer so if you want to keep your plants alive, don’t skimp. Yes, we do have high water bills here – our plants sales all go towards paying them – but our fruit is luscious and juicy and we hardly ever lose a plant. When we do it’s because we have tried to grow something right out of climate like noni and then it’s the cold which does them in.