A few tips on how to prepare your garden for the summer

There are a few things you can do to ensure your garden survives in the dry season

There’s a chill in the air and still a faint hope of rain, but the prudent gardener is already planning ahead for the dry season. How can we stretch this lovely time of flowers and dewy leaves to those months when we really need the sight of them? And how can we enjoy a summer garden without being eco-monsters who send copious showers of precious water over an entire plot, down the drive, and halfway into the next street? By preparing our plants while they are still robust and growing. Preparing a garden for the summer involves some judicious moving around, pruning, soil care and a healthy dose of sanity.

Lawns and seasonals

If you have a lawn, trim it more frequently and water it just enough. If the summer gets brutal, even a lawn prepared in this way may die off, but it is more likely to spring back with the first rain. Water your seasonal flowers for as long as they look healthy. If they get scraggly and wilt no matter what, it is pointless to keep watering them. Cut them down close to the soil. Either they will die out, as seasonals do, or they will sprout afresh next year.

Potted plants

Shelter your sensitive potted plants in the verandah or under trees or green netting, and leave your hardy succulents and flowering shrubs out in the sun. Clump the pots together to save moisture, instead of stretching them out in a line.

In-ground plants

Plants that are in the ground have to be helped where they are. Many shrubs put out long shoots in the wet season, and these are often weak and watery. If you are pruning such an overgrown shrub, do it so that it has time to recover before the really hot months. Gentle watering is a must at all times. While the soil is still soft, dig a shallow circle around each shrub, away from the stem, and pour water gently into that depression till the soil is soaked. Attacking the stem with a hose or sloshing water against the plant will strip the soil from the roots and dry out the plant more quickly. As the season wears on, if you find the soil getting flat, hard and crusted, you need to refresh those circles. Composting improves the balance of the soil and helps it retain water, but avoid adding rich manure in dry weather.

Young trees

Large trees usually have a well-established root system that takes them through tough times, but young trees need some help. Dig a shallow circle well away from the trunk and water gently into that circle. If you are short of water for the garden, give priority to your trees, because they are the hardest to replace.

Rainwater and gray water

As the rains taper off, try to capture those last few showers for your garden. Depending on how much you want to spend, either place buckets under the downspouts from your roof or put in a proper tank for storing larger amounts of water.

Also start a habit of saving gray water for the garden. Gray water includes kitchen waste water as well as water from bathing, mopping and washing clothes and if you direct your outlet pipes into the garden, gray water is perfectly good for your plants. It can be even better if you make some simple changes at home—use less detergent when washing clothes, bathe and shampoo with herbal powders rather than soap, and mop floors with plain water.

Now for the sanity

If you are facing a rough summer, do not set your heart on a garden that is a lush rainforest. Once you’ve done your best with rational watering, hide your leafy shade plants under the eaves, shrug at your browning lawn, and enjoy those hardy natives that bloom in the most brutal heat—bougainvillaea, hibiscus, and jasmine. In no time at all, the dews and mists will be back.

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