As most of Australia finds itself in the grips of a relentless drought, keeping your plants quenched and happy can feel like a non-stop battle. Here are our tips to help you deal with drought conditions in your garden so you can continue to enjoy good harvests this season!
Thanks to our friends over at Grow Veg who have created a great video to accompany this article:
When water’s precious it pays to prioritise where and how you distribute the water. Concentrate your watering where it’s needed: young seedlings to help them establish, salad leaves to stop them wilting, fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and anything growing in a pot.
Focus water on the roots of plants, not on the foliage, larger water droplets of water are better than a fine mist which will easily evaporate. Avoid strong spray from a hose which may knock plants about or blast potting soil out of containers. Instead use low pressure from the hose or place the end of the hose in a watering can so that it fills as you pour. This means you can water carefully and precisely, enjoying the convenience of a hose – without wasting a drop!
An automatic irrigation system, connected to a timer, will take the strain out of watering. Set it to come on very early in the morning, before things heat up, or in the evening when the sun has gone down. The best setups use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to deliver water right at the base of plants, near the roots. Some can even be fitted to water barrels, so you can make the most of any rainwater you’ve managed to collect.
Creating wicking garden beds that hold water and allow the plants to take what they need. These are great for catching and conserving precious water, and eliminate water wastage from runoff and evaporation. Check out out step by step guide to building a wicking garden bed here.
Utilise grey water where possible. Shower and washing machine water is great for your garden. Install a water tank to catch any rain you do receive.
Adding wetting agents and water saving crystals to your soil will help it retain moisture. There are many commercially available options on the market, or you can simply add dishwashing detergent or shampoo to water to make your own wetting agent. The absorbant crystals in nappies make for great water saving crystals, repurpose lightly used nappies by tearing them open and removing the gel crystals and mix into your soil.
Applying a liquid seaweed concentrate when you water will also help your plants tolerate and recover from stress better.
Water from the Bottom
Watering pots from the bottom, rather than the top, can save a lot of time – and water – in hot weather. Fill up a suitable-sized reservoir, adding any liquid feed you’d like to apply at the recommended rate. Now sink your pots into the water and simply walk away, leaving them to soak up the liquid for an hour or more. You can speed things along by adding a splosh of water to the top of the pot before it’s left to soak. This technique ensures a really thorough watering that makes very efficient use of water.
Protecting Seedlings from Drought and Heat
Drought can play havoc with seedlings, hampering germination and causing young plants to struggle. Here are a few ideas to help.
Success with Germination
In hot, dry conditions getting seeds to germinate can be tricky, particularly those of cool-season crops such as lettuce. The solution is to wet the seed drill before sowing, to give them the cool, moist surroundings they crave. Water along marked-out drills. Allow the water to completely drain away, then repeat again before you sow.
Once you’re done sowing, cover the seeds back over but don’t water again until after germination. The moisture in the drill will drain through, encouraging the seedling’s roots to follow.
Add Some Shade
Young seedlings, and cool-season crops in general, perform better under the protection of some shading in hot summers. Prioritise shady areas for crops that prefer cooler conditions, such as salad leaves. You can use taller crops to shade shorter ones, but in scorching weather drastic action may be needed.
Shade cloth can cast just enough shade to keep your plants happy in severe heat – and it’s easily removed when the weather turns cooler. Suspend it over plants to help them keep their cool.
Mulching to Keep Soil Cool and Moist
Mulching is a must in Australia, and even more important during drought. Mulch serves a few purposes: it shades the soil from the sun, helping to keep it cooler and prevent it from baking, it also acts as a lid on the soil, dramatically reducing evaporation. Common mulches include woodchip, sugarcane, grass clippings and leaf rubbish.
How to Apply a Mulch
Thoroughly soak the ground before adding your mulch. If it’s exceptionally dry, water again a few hours later to recharge all that valuable soil moisture. Now lay the mulch so it’s at least 2cm thick around your plants. Fine mulch should be used around small seedlings and small/fine plants. Fruit trees, canes and bushes can be mulched with chunkier materials such as woodchip, or fibrous materials like straw. Again, take care to water well before laying it. Mulches may not be very high-tech, but they are incredibly effective in a hot summer.
We hope you’ve found some of these ideas handy. Don't forget to watch the video at the top to see some of these techniques in action!