Drought-proof your garden this summer

Published 5:00am 11 December 2023

Drought-proof your garden this summer
Words by Sondra Grainger

With a potentially dry season ahead, don’t panic and retreat from your gardens … there are plenty of easy solutions to ensure plants thrive if mother nature doesn’t provide ample rainfall.

Firstly, avoid the temptation to water just a little each day. A solid half-hour soaking will ensure water soaks deep into the ground to encourage plant roots to also go deeper where soil is cooler. You’ll create stronger, ‘less needy’ plants. A watering system or simple sprinkler is ideal once or twice a week.

Potting mix and garden soil can become water repellent or hydrophobic over time or if left without water for long periods leaving the plant's roots dry even though water might pour out through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.

The easy way to check if your plants are suffering from soil dry-out is to dig down about 2-5cm after watering and see if the soil mix is still dry. If it is, you can rehydrate the soil by applying a wetting agent. This not only improves the soil’s water-holding capacity, it also improves plant health by allowing the water and nutrients to penetrate to the plant's roots where it is most needed.

Just sprinkle it onto pot plants, hanging baskets, gardens and lawns and water in. It lasts up to 12 months, reduces water run-off and improves fertiliser and pesticide delivery directly to the root zone and you won’t need to water as often.

For smaller pot plants, submerging the pot (make sure it has drainage holes) in a bucket of water can help. The water level should be just below the top of the potting mix, then leave it in the bucket for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the potting mix to become thoroughly wet. Remove it from the bucket and allow to drain before putting it back into its regular home.

Drought-proof your garden this summer

It’s all in the soil

Quality potting mix for moisture-loving plants contains water crystals. They are small crystal-shaped polymers which can absorb and store up to 400 times their own weight in water. They’ll also absorb soluble nutrients which may be in the water solution.

The crystals help with plant growth, save watering time, are non-toxic to plants, groundwater and wildlife and they will last up to five years. You can add them to hanging baskets or pot plants by making a deep hole in the mix – a knitting needle or skewer works well & sprinkling the crystals into the hole. Top with a little potting mix and water well.

If you have a garden or pots that are underperforming or just need a summer facelift, consider using dry-tolerant plants and always water in with a seaweed solution (Seasol or Seamax are ideal) to promote strong root growth and help with transplant shock.

Drought-proof your garden this summer

Plant selection

My drought-tolerant favourites are hardy sun-loving gazanias – there’s a reason they’re planted in traffic islands – and Mediterranean plants such as geraniums, lavender and olives. For modern and Palm Springs-style gardens, choose cacti and succulents and of course tough Australian natives. If you’re unsure, take a wander across the Peninsula to see what’s looking good in streetscapes and parklands or drop into your local garden centre for advice.

Finally, mulch! Not only does mulch ‘dress’ your garden and pots, it helps protect plants from extreme temperatures, improves moisture penetration and retention by up to 75 per cent, breaks down to add organic matter to the soil and helps control weeds fighting for the same moisture. Sugar Cane Mulch is a great ‘all-rounder’ as it’s natural and a sustainable resource from sugar cane waste. A layer, about 3cm deep, avoiding plant stems and trunks will do the trick.

Top 5 tips

  • Water less often but for longer
  • Rehydrate soil using a wetting agent or adding water crystals
  • Strengthen root systems and avoid transplant shock with a seaweed-based product
  • Always use a quality potting mix to suit your plant type
  • Mulch to keep the moisture in and competing weeds out

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