February in Australia can be one of the harshest times in the garden with some of the highest temperatures of the year. So, how do you keep gardening and what can you do to help your plants through this testing month?
- Boost your soil to retain moisture
You can start by helping your plants out by improving the soil so that it can hold onto moisture and nutrients for longer by adding some Richgro compost, mushroom compost, or cow manure. Dig this through where possible but in established beds, you can use it as a mulch and let the worms do the hard work for you whilst protecting the roots of the plant stock.
- Apply a soil wetter
Adding a granulated soil wetter such as Richgro EZI-WET to your compost or manure and to all garden beds will ensure that rain or irrigation gets into the soil effectively to maximise uptake by the plants. Your soil may not be hydrophobic, but the addition of a soil wetter prevents any build-up of bad bacteria and is a good gardening practice.
Water in your soil wetter wisely. Obviously, you do not want to be out in the heat of the day as you will lose excess moisture through evaporation. Early morning or evening is best and lock it all into the soil with some Richgro mulch.
- Create cool shade
Creating shade in the garden can lower the temperature drastically. I know it is considerably cooler under my wisteria covered pergola in the middle of the day! I like deciduous plants to cover structures as they let in the winter light as well as protect through summer. If you are adding a solid roof for all weather protection, it is a good idea to insulate the roof for maximum effect.
Protecting sensitive plants with shade cloth in February helps them through too! For individual plants, you can use stakes or star pickets to create a frame that can be removed once the heat has passed. For your veggies, flexible plastic stakes can be used to create a tunnel with plastic in the cooler months for heat. They can also be used with a shade cloth for cooling in months like February. If you have a greenhouse, it can be transformed into a shade house by removing the roof and replacing it with shade cloth.
- Use the heat to your garden’s advantage
You can use this heat to get a jump start on your autumn seedlings for the veggie patch such as Romanesco broccoli and Cauliflowers. Winter vegetables are much slower growing than the veggies you have in now. When the temperature cools down, the growth slows right down with it. So, why not get a jump start? Using the heat in one of your mini shade tunnels will also help germinate seeds that normally take time to show life such as carrots, leeks, and beetroots. I would do this at the end of the month and sow them at one-week intervals so when they are ready for harvest. You will have a longer cropping period rather than all at once.
We all know the shade of a large tree helps to cool its surroundings, but you can apply this knowledge to the veggie patch as well. Creating a planting spot under taller plants such as tomatoes will protect more sensitive leaves. Fast growing lettuce are perfect for this!
- Create Microclimates to manage heat
Creating microclimates in your garden is a great way to manage heat as well.
By grouping all your pots together in one area and placing them on trays to hold some moisture, you will create a cooling effect surrounding the plants.
- Choose plants that can cope with heat
Picking plants that can cope with the heat such as those with sturdy, silvery, hairy leaves or even succulents. This means you do not need to worry about them when the temperature rises. With all new plants, I suggest waiting until the heat dissipates unless you can protect them with some shade. Irrespective of the species, you will need to settle them in with regular watering.
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