Summer is a tough time to garden in Perth - we know, because we live here and garden, too! Following recent discussion on our Facebook page, we have chosen the top 7 issues our customers face in summer - chances are they're some of the issues you're facing, so you might find a solution or two to try.
Good luck & happy (sizzling summer) gardening.
Gardening on the edge of a desert here in Perth is difficult - no more so than in Summer, as temperatures sap the life out of everything but the hardiest natives who have evolved with these conditions. So there's a hint - if you're planning a new garden and want something low maintenance, consider local native plants. There is a wide range available, so visit a good nursery (Zanthorrea in Maida Vale specialise in natives, as does Australian Native Nurseries in Oakford) and get some advice. It is possible to have a colourful and beautiful garden using native plants.
Should you be looking at growing exotic plants (ie. anything non-native, including vegetables) the key to success is to provide them with their ideal growing conditions. Do some research onto where your favourite flowers/shrubs originate from, and what type of growing conditions suit them best. Then, try to replicate that in your own yard. Understorey plants will need shade and shelter from wind - for example. Taking the time to set up your garden before planting will give you the best chance of success.
For vegetable gardening in Perth, soil improvement, MULCH, regular water and shadecloth* is really the only way to ensure success. And obviously - growing things in the correct season is paramount to success. (* We have white horticultural grade shadecloth available in 50% & 70%.)
Water Repellent Soil
In our sandy soil, the hot weather can dry out the top layers of soil where the microbial life is, and nutrient recycling and water holding just isn't happening. Water will pool on top of the soil, and just runs off if your garden is on a slope.
In the short term, use a good quality soil wetting agent (we recommend EcoWet) to help get water into the soil profile. However this method isn't permanent, and you'll need to repeat applications every 12 months. Incorporating water holding material is the key to longer lasting benefits.
Clay is extremely beneficial to add to sandy soil - the clay permanently improves the soil's structure, enabling it to be re-wet even if it does dry out. There are a number of clay products on the market - and all have their place. The two main types are bentonite & kaolinite clays. Green Life sells BOTH. We have pure Watheroo bentonite available, our Sand Remedy (which is bentonite based but includes a number of other effective minerals for water and nutrient holding - as well as trace elements), and kaolinite clay 'Cassies Clay'. Both Sand Remedy and Cassies Clay are endorsed by the WA Water Corporation and help your garden use less water.
The other fantastic product that will help with water repellency is Charlie Charcoal. Charcoal by its nature is highly absorbent, and is a permanent source of carbon in your soil - hugely beneficial for microbes and for nutrient holding, and as a bonus - it has a very low pH, so if you struggle with high alkalinity (as do many people along the coast) - this is the perfect product to use. Charlie & Cassie work so well together in your garden that we would say it's a match made in heaven!! We use both products in the majority of our soil mixes.
This is a big problem for many gardeners - and because it happens below the surface, it isn't something obvious until you go digging. Your garden beds (especially vegie gardenss) are lavished with love, nutrients and water - and trees, lawns, shrubs etc. from everywhere will sniff that goodness out and send roots in to get their share. Even neighbour's trees can be a problem - they don't respect the boundary fence.
Unless you're up to digging out the bed and starting afresh every 2-5 years, the best thing you can do is to use a root barrier material. We have found weedmat ineffective. Geotextile (which we sell) is the far better choice. Allowing moisture to permeate, it stops root hairs getting through (you do need to watch out for any overlapping sections).
I have mulched most of our vegie garden with pea straw. It does a great job to help protect the soil surface and keep it moist, but it really seems to attract slaters, which have decimated many of my vegies (grrrrrr). There are a number of traps & tricks you can try if you're wanting to avoid using any pesticides in your garden. Cleaning up areas like piles of wood, prunings and pots will also remove areas where slaters like to populate and hide away. These creatures do have a role to play in gardens. They assist in the breakdown and recycling of organic matter, which in turn makes nutrients available to plants. The problems appear when they breed up to large numbers.
If you have left over citrus halves from juicing, upturn these amongst your plants. Slaters (and also slugs and snails) will shelter inside, and can be easily disposed of in the morning. Another trick is to take a newspaper and roll it up with a lacky band at each end. Make sure the open edges of the paper are outermost. Soak it thoroughly in water and put out in the garden. The slaters will go inbetween the pages along the edge - again it's a simple thing to pick up the whole paper and dispose of it. You can also try wet newspaper sheets crumpled up in an old pot on its side. Same theory - damp & dark = nice spot for slaters!
Leaving potato peelings in a pile on an icecream container lid for a few days will also work as an attractant. The decaying skins provide food and a place for them to hide - again the whole lot can be easily removed. Beer traps will also work with slaters, as will off yoghurt or sour cream to attract them.
If you're wanting to dial it up a notch, the iron based snail pellets do work very well at killing slaters. (we stock Multiguard and Protect-Us)
Scale & Mealy Bug
Mealy bug are a type of scale pest - a group of little sap sucking critters that attach themselves to your plants, and can weaken them. Worse, the sticky substance they secrete (honey dew) is sought after by ants as a food source, so ants actively farm them and spread them around your garden. Black sooty mould can grow on the honey dew secretion. This isn't itself such a problem - but it is unsightly.
Traditionally, heavy duty systemic pesticides are used - treating them organically requires a bit more effort. There are parasitic wasps that deal with them - but if scale are present in large numbers, you may not win the battle.
Small plants are manageable - using gloves, or a cloth, you can wipe them off leaves and stems with a little metho or pest oil. Larger plants need a spray with something like Eco-oil, neem oil, potassium soap spray or pyrethrum, and you will need to do repeated treatments to get new hatchlings as they emerge. Oil based treatments can be problematic in hot weather - you'll burn your plants. It is best to treat in late winter.
For trees & hard to reach shrubs, blasting foliage with a high pressure hose will help - you may need to do this for several days in a row, and repeat often.
Control ant numbers (with trunk banding) and you will help stop the spread of the scale pest. Plants that are constantly under attack by these pests may be best removed and replaced with a less susceptible species.
Whether it's spreading scale, or messing up your paving - ants can be a headache. Often they're a symptom of dry conditions - regularly watering the garden/s they're in may cause them to move on. Ants in compost or worm farms definitely mean it's too dry. Tipping a kettle of boiling water daily on nests in paving will certainly help. Organic control is limited to a few soft options - you can try our diatomaceous earth, or Eco-ant spray; which is a eucalyptus based formulation.
If you need to do something more heavy duty, it's best to correctly identify your ants so you can target them efficiently. Using a piece of sticky tape, collect a couple of them, send them to the Agriculture Department for ID. Here's a link to their web page
which has a heap of info on native and introduced ant species, and the details for taking & sending samples.
Ants are a natural part of the eco system and have a role to play in the food chain - and also pollinating your plants! So if they're not causing you major problems, try and leave them be. Ants can help control other insect pests and help aerate the soil (allowing water, air and nutrients to penetrate).
Grasshoppers are chewers, ripping holes in plant leaves and spreading disease. They will nibble on tissue of some crops causing it to rot and go brown, and in large numbers they can defoliate plants very quickly. Insect netting will protect vulnerable plants. Praying mantis are a natural predator; as are many birds - so encourage them in your garden by planting a few shrubs around & supplying a bird bath to provide shelter and habitat. Grasshoppers are sluggish in cooler temperatures early in the morning. If you go out then, you should be able to hand pick quite a few off your plants. You can also use a small hand held vacuum to suck them off sturdy plants. Chickens will devour grasshoppers; and they're edible for humans too - if you're interested!
Spraying your plants with a garlic & chilli spray helps as a deterrent. You can also try Neem oil. Some studies have shown it to be a deterrent for grasshoppers, as well as a control if they ingest it. Direct contact sprays (for spraying directly onto the pests) include pyrethrum and/or horticultural soap (potassium soap). Traps can be made by floating small bits of yellow plastic on top of bodies of water (eg. kids wading pools); the grasshoppers are attracted to yellow and will drown when they hit the water. You can also try 10% molasses in water solution, cover with a thin film of oil on top to deter bees, (canola oil is said to attract grasshoppers) and leave in small jars/containers around the garden. Again, if you can paint them bright yellow this may help. Yellow sticky traps close to the ground are worth trying too - just be aware these have caused problems with small birds that have been trapped on the strong glue; some yellow traps now have a 'cage' built into the design to prevent this.
Dead Patches in Your Lawn
Boy, has this one comes up every summer in social media. Dead patches on your lawn are ultimately a sign of stress - that section of lawn is too hot & too dry to be thriving right now. Often compaction occurs, and there's less opportunity for water to easily work its way into the root zone.
Again, our sandy soils have often been poorly prepped for lawn, and there can be a number of reasons why certain spots in your lawn aren't as healthy as others. One section may simply be receiving less water due to poor/reduced sprinkler overlap, water pressure, blocked nozzles - etc. Here's some really useful info from the Watercorporation
- we recommend you use catch cups to test & compare how much water your lawn is receiving in different places (it may surprise you, and it's worth spending the time to check).
To help fix the issue, aerate your lawn in the dry spots. You can use special tools, or a pitchfork loosely moved through the soil will do the job. Use a good quality liquid soil wetter (we recommend Eco-wet). You may find repeated applications are necessary in some spots. Hand water well to ensure soil receives the moisture.
If you know of anybody about to lay new lawn, PLEASE get them to talk to us about getting the soil prep right. We speak to people on a daily basis who struggle to keep their lawn healthy - and your best chance is to do it right the first time.
So there you go - hopefully the 7 deadly sins of summer can be circumvented!