Spring is the perfect time to prepare your garden for the stress of summer’s heat and drought. Summer is arriving early this year due to the effects of El Niño, which brings lower rainfall and hotter-than-average temperatures through spring. These conditions dramatically impact the garden.

By ticking off our 7 tips to prepare your garden for summer stresses of heat and drought, your garden will be the best in the street by the time summer arrives.

To prepare your lawn for summer check out our seasonal lawn care tips for great advice.

7 steps to prepare your garden for summer stresses - heat and drought
7 steps to prepare your garden for summer stresses including improving soil health

Step 1 –  Soil health

Healthy, fertile soil is the key to a thriving summer garden as the plant’s roots have access to moisture and nutrients. To prepare the soil for summer, add homemade compost and organic manure and/or Seasol Super Compost, at planting to help improve its structure, aeration and long-term health. If the soil is hard to dig due to established plants, use a no-dig option such as fast-acting Seasol Liquid Compost.

When adding compost and organic material, lightly dig it into the topsoil and remove any weeds by hand or with a trowel. While delving in the soil, put your fingers down into it. If it feels dry, add water. If you find that water is pooling onto or running off the soil surface it may be repelling water. Applying a soil wetter such as Seasol Super Soil Wetter & Conditioner will help to ensure that water gets to where it’s needed – the plant’s root system.

For additional tips for spring and summer soil care check out our seasonal soil care tips for all the tips and tricks.

Step 2 – Plant health

Strong, healthy plants can cope better with the sun’s baking rays and excessively high temperatures. Inspect your plants for signs of stress, pests, diseases, and damaged foliage. Prune off affected areas, remove insects by hand (wear gloves) or with a hose. Alternatively, use a natural spray such as EarthCare White Oil insect spray to control them (don’t apply during hot conditions).

Pests and diseases may indicate that a plant is sick or struggling from adverse environmental factors. Look out for other signs that indicate a weakened or stressed plant including:

  • Wilting – heat stress and lack of moisture.
  • Yellow leaves – too much or too little moisture or not enough nutrients.
  • Brown and crisp leaves – lacking moisture over a long period, causing the plant not to function.

Understanding your garden’s health and making regular applications of Seasol every two weeks helps maintain plants to keep them looking good all season long.

7 steps to prepare your garden for summer including plant selection

Step 3 – Plant choice and location

Whether planning a new garden or updating an existing one, plant selection is essential. Choosing the right plants for the right location can be as easy as reading the information on its plant tag or getting local advice from staff at hardware or garden centres.

Cactus and succulents are drought-tolerant plants because of their rubber-like or coarse foliage and will survive on very little nurturing. Whereas heat and sun-sensitive plants such as hydrangeas and maples (Acer) need protection, irrigation, and nutrients to get through summer unscathed.

Other heat-tolerant plants include those with small grey or silver leaves. These plants get their coloration by having a hairy surface, an adaptation that helps reduce water evaporation. Good options include lavender, senecio, convolvulus or eremophila (a native option). Olive trees and rosemary are also good options in hot, sunny areas as their small but tough green leaves survive well in the heat.

Sun-sensitive plants such as hydrangeas can be grown in the garden by catering to their needs. Place them in shady positions or with morning sun, ensure they are well watered on hot days and feed them well so they are strong and healthy and can withstand the effects of heat stress.

Step 4 – Watering and irrigation

Watering plants wisely is the key to summer garden success. Set up a regular watering pattern to ensure your plants don’t dry out. Depending on the requirements of your plants and any local water restrictions, maintain a routine of watering less often but for a longer period. This ensures roots go down into the soil to search for moisture, nutrients and plant stability.

Water plants in the cool of the day, either early morning or evening, when there is less chance of water evaporation. Apply water to the soil, not the foliage, as this is where the roots absorb water.

While it’s good to keep your plants hydrated, it’s also good not to overwater them. Too much water, especially if the soil is poorly drained, can lead to root rot as the soil lacks oxygen and the wet conditions encourage the growth of soil pathogens. Check the soil near the plant’s roots and if it’s moist below the surface, hold off watering and test again the next day.

When using the hose to water plants, always check that the water is cool before applying it to plants. Water in hoses left in the sun heats up, so run it before directing the water onto the garden.

Follow our seven easy tips on changing from a winter to spring vegie patch including soil prep, what to plant and how to look after them.
7 steps to prepare your garden for summer including applying mulch

Step 5 – Mulch

To keep soil and plant roots cool and moist, apply mulch. A thin layer of mulch helps protect soil and roots from heat, evaporation and water wastage.
Mulch comes in the form of organic and non-organic and can be used on soil or potting mix. Organic mulch includes materials such as sugar cane, pea straw, lucerne and bark. It breaks down over time helping to improve the soil. Fine organic mulches are great for the vegie patch, fruit trees and the cottage garden. Coarser bark mulches suit native gardens and areas of shrubs and trees.

Non-organic mulch includes gravel, pebbles or recycled materials such as crushed glass. Use these types of mulches around Aussie natives, Mediterranean type plants – such as olives, lavender, rosemary – and around succulents and cactus.

Step 6 – Feeding the garden.

Maintaining a regular feeding pattern through spring, sets plants up for strong growth leading into summer. It aids their resilience to heat, drought and the stresses of summer.

For plants in the garden or pots, either apply a fast-acting liquid such as PowerFeed All Purpose including Natives regularly every fortnight to month or a slow-release fertiliser such as PowerFeed with Torforte All Purpose including Natives every six to eight weeks (or use a combination of both fertiliser types).

Safe on all plants within the garden, they contain the nutrients for lush foliage, flowers and fruits. Apply in the cool of the day, either early morning or late evening. Never apply a fertiliser in the heat of the day (temperatures over 25℃), especially to the foliage, as it may burn it.

There are no set rules to feeding your plants and garden. It all depends on your preferred application method – liquid, granular or slow-release fertiliser – and how often you want to get out and do it. There are also more specific fertilisers for specific plant applications:

Adding Seasol to the watering can with PowerFeed has a dual effect as it helps to promote a stronger root system while strengthening the plant to achieve the best garden this summer.

7 steps to prepare your garden for summer stresses including protecting plants from heat.
7 steps to prepare your garden for summer stresses including irrigation and watering

Step 7 – Summer garden tips

As the weather warms in the lead up to summer follow these tips to keep your garden looking good.

  • Indoor plants: Move plants back from windows to prevent foliage burn. Also, ensure they are not placed directly in front of the air-conditioner as they will be damaged by a blast of cold air
  • Outdoor pots: On days of extreme heat, move pot plants to a cooler position in the garden. Underneath the shade of a tree or verandah is ideal.
  • Garden plants: Cover heat and sun-sensitive plants with shadecloth to prevent drooping and burning. Remember to remove the covering in the cool of the evening.
  • Deadhead spent flowers: This keeps the garden looking good and ensures a continual display of beautiful blooms.
  • Harvest produce: Harvest produce as it’s ready and in the cool of the day. When harvesting, check for pests and diseases, which may harm plants. Apply the appropriate treatment to remove them.
  • Gardening activity: Humans are like plants; they don’t function well with high heat and sun exposure. Enjoy summer gardening by undertaking small tasks in the cool of the day.
  • Clean-up gardens: Keep the garden tidy by removing weeds, prunings and timber lying around. Clean gutters regularly and ensure taps and hoses are working properly. These tips are critical in bushfire areas.