Published in The Green Issue 210
Although we often think of spring as a great time of growth in our gardens, summer is where things really race ahead. Given the right nourishment and protection, your garden should reward you with bountiful produce. Failure to put in place a few basic essentials however and you’ll be left with hard dry soil and crops that bolt to seed. Of course, there’s always plenty of things you can do to keep your garden flourishing over summer but the three most important factors for success are hydration, protection and competition. When acted on, these three simple concepts will ensure that your garden is well prepared to survive the harshest days.
- Hydration: If your soil has become hydrophobic (water repellant) or is very sandy you could add a wetting agent or water crystals, which will increase the soil’s water holding capacity and help keep the soil moist for longer. Water crystals are especially helpful in pot plants, which often dry out quickly in the sun or with hot winds. If you don’t have a dedicated irrigation system it is best to push your hose slightly into the garden, around 50-75mm deep, so the water is much closer to the roots of the plants and less is lost to wind and evaporation. Watering this way also eliminates sunburn on the foliage caused when droplets of water act somewhat like a magnifying glass in the harsh sunlight. Water early in the morning or late in the afternoon to mimimise water loss through evaporation, dig through as much compost and organic matter you can get your hands on and mulch well and you’ll have a healthy, robust garden that will bounce back after even the hottest days.
- Protection: Protecting your garden over summer takes many forms. The most obvious being the provision of shade. Our baking sun can wreak all sorts of damage on our plants, especially on the young seedlings you hope will provide you with sustenance for the next few months. If you have the option of raising seeds in a green house during the hottest months then this is certainly optimal, just remember to harden them off in the sun for a few hours a day before planting them out into full sun. Planting seeds directly into the ground however can be just as successful (and will reduce the amount of time you have to spend tending to the seedlings) as long as you provide shelter from the sun and also the wind. Branches stuck into the ground, with their leaves still attached, are a quick and easy way to ensure dappled sunlight gets to the plants, an umbrella will provide light shade but not much beats good old shade cloth for strong protection. If you are caught short or a heatwave looms, draping an old sheet over plants will afford some protection and may just save next weeks salads. If your garden beds are particularly exposed you could consider planting essential herbs and greens in pots that you can position in a shady location, ideally near the kitchen for easy harvesting and watering. Or if you are in the exciting phase of planning your garden, make sure to group plants according to their water requirements. This will not only ensure they flourish but will limit the amount of time you need to spend tending to them.
- Competition: There is one job you can do at all times of the year that will benefit what you are trying to grow, which is especially important during summer, that is weeding. Weeds are plants too and they are very good at seeking out water. Generally, weeds are much hardier than the food species we plant. Their roots are often deeper in the soil, their leaves more robust and more resistant to pests. This gives the weeds a definite head start, so removing them altogether will ensure that competition for resources is limited. Competition can also come from overloading your vege patch. Planting crops too closely or not thinning out direct-sown seedlings as they get bigger can result in spindly growth from overcrowding and not enough sunlight.
As always, gardens grown in healthy, organic-rich soil will fare the best whatever the weather, so before it gets too hot it’s a great idea to give your garden a bit of a nutrient boost. These vital minerals, along with the pointers mentioned above should help to keep you in firm, fresh fruit, veg and flowers all summer long.