The holidays are just around the corner and it is also peak growing time for summer crops. We all wish for a hot and dry summer break, even if farmers don't. I'm sure many gardeners and rain tank owners will join me in saying a good day of heavy rain between several sunny ones makes an ideal summer. There a few steps we can take before heading away on holiday to reduce crop losses over this period and protect the hard work we've already put in.
Water-savvy summer garden
Vegetables, flowering annuals and potted plants have high watering needs compared with established perennials and trees. Hot and windy weather is great for drying the washing, but very quickly dries out the soil, too. Foliar water-loss increases exponentially in the wind.
Drip irrigation systems are a water-savvy way to water your garden. They can be used for border gardens and vege beds, with drippers located near the base of plant roots. Dripper systems are a wallet-friendly option as far as watering goes compared with overhead sprayers, but all irrigation systems are a financial investment.
With drip irrigation you're not wasting money watering everything, weeds and all, unlike overhead spraying. You're also avoiding a post-summer headache of large water bills, and your plants will perform better and be less prone to fungal attack if you water the soil, rather than the foliage.
Lay the dripper line under mulch to reduce water loss through evaporation in hot weather. Netafim is a quality dripper line that resists blocking and is available at irrigation and horticulture suppliers around New Zealand.
If an irrigation system is not an option for your garden, water annuals and veges deeply in the morning or evening and repeat in a few days, then mulch well before heading away.
If you can, knock up wind shelter for veges if they're in an exposed site.
Find a neighbour who is staying put over the holidays, and make a deal - watering duties for a share of your harvest.
Photo / Supplied
Vertical plants such as tomatoes, runner beans and peas all require support. Erect sturdy supports in advance - there's nothing more disappointing than a heavily laden tomato plant breaking. Anchor a second stake to the main stake at an angle as a brace. Use soft fabric ties and loop in a figure 8 around the stem and the stake. As you tie the main tomato stem, de-lateral the side shoots. Bamboo canes are good for runner beans to wind up, but the canes will need to be at least 2m high. Hardwood stakes are worth investing in for heavier crops such as tomatoes (avoid using treated timber).
Flower gardens are also kept in good form with prudent staking.
No pot is an island
The sight of wilted and dying pot plants is not great for lifting post-holiday spirits. To reduce the exposure of individual pots to the drying effects of sun and wind, cluster groups of pots in the semi-shade. Mix water-retaining granules into potting mix in existing pots. Place trays under plant pots to catch the rain during summer. Pale stones or lime chip are good mulch for potted plants - pale colours reflect heat, and water loss is reduced from the soil surface. Likewise, a thick layer of pea straw in the vege garden or flower border will help reduce heat and minimise moisture evaporation from the soil surface, while improving your soil as it breaks down.
Keep hungry marauders from your plant smorgasbord
Feathered foes and other unwanted guests.
Photo / Meg Liptrot
After ensuring the crops will survive in your absence, make sure you're not laying out a picnic blanket for a host of feathered invaders. Grapes, plums and berry fruit ripen quickly and become plump and juicy over the holiday period so bird netting is an essential tool in your pest-prevention arsenal.
Protect leafy greens and annuals by sprinkling pet-friendly snail bait in shady areas where snails like to hide.
To enjoy your garden in peace, throw Mozzie Bits granules into the water-catching crowns of banana palms and bromeliads. This product uses microbial warfare against mosquito larvae. At least that's one unfriendly Christmas visitor you can anticipate.