With the extremes of temperature we have been experiencing, now is a good opportunity to evaluate the performance of different plants in the garden in terms of their tolerance for heat, as well as extended periods of dryness.
It is also valuable to recall, if possible, the planting techniques used when the plant was originally placed into the ground and the subsequent treatment of the plant. This might include a variety of factors such as: mulching, watering patterns, use of wetting agents and shading.
From this information the gardener should be able to make reasonable assumptions about techniques that enable and encourage good, strong growth, as well as recognise plants that adapt well to extremes of temperatures, compared to those that require much more intensive care and attention. This information then becomes very valuable when selecting plants in the future.
Native plants such as the hybrid grevilleas, callistemons, melaleucas and banksias seem to be tolerating the weather conditions well, with minimal requirements for watering.
Some exotics (plants that are not originally from Australia), including abelias, abutilons, are also performing well, while plants such as hydrangeas and fuchsias, seem to require more regular watering. They may display signs of burning on the leaves, but these should be left on the bush until cooler weather arrives or until it is the time for regular pruning. The leaves will provide shelter for inner leaves and growth in further periods of heat.
The period following any rain would be an ideal time in which to apply a layer of surface mulch, as this will help to maintain moisture levels in the soil, while also providing a future food source when the mulch begins to decompose. Lucerne hay, straw mulch or sugar cane mulch would be good to use.
BUSY WITH BEANS
There is still time to plant a variety of beans. These include climbing beans, such as runner and scarlet beans.
These beans are easy to grow and should be sown in rows directly into the garden bed. Seeds that have been spaced between 10cm and 20cm apart will grow and produce beans that will be ready for harvesting between two and three months later. Some form of frame work, such as a fence or trellis, should be provided. Snails can be a pest of these plants, chewing through the stems of the young plants near ground level.
Dwarf and French beans will not need staking. They can be sown in a manner similar to climbing beans. However, if the seeds are scattered over the ground and covered with soil, potting mix or compost, they can then be firmed down with a rake or the back of a spade. As the plants grow they will form a cover over the soil, suppressing most of the usual weed growth.
Regular harvesting of the beans will encourage new flowers and keep the plants young and healthy for a longer season. A continuous crop can be made available if more seeds are planted out as soon as the current plantings start their flowering cycle.
Many parents are eager to encourage their children to take an interest in the garden. One way in which this can be achieved is to plant something that will appeal to them.
Sunflowers should be a suitable option for this project. Seeds of sunflowers can be planted out now, in the garden where they will eventually grow. A sunny spot should be selected for optimum results. This will also ensure that the sunflower flowers will be able to move in a manner that adds special interest to the plant.
The face of the flower, with its black seeds surrounded by yellow petals, will move through the day so that it continually faces the sun.
Sunflower seeds should be planted where they are to grow, at a depth that is twice the size of the seed. Then they can be covered with light soil and watered well. Ensuring that the selected garden bed has been watered deeply, with the water reaching the subsoil, will ensure the plants develop a strong, deep root system. The garden beds should be watered regularly and kept free of weeds. An application of a liquid fertiliser every two to three weeks will help produce strong, healthy plants.
Sunflowers have traditionally produced tall plants with flowers that have a high oil content in their seeds. However, recent breeding has developed strains that are pollen-free, meaning they do not produce seeds. This results in the plants being less attractive to cockatoos and other large seed-eating birds that can easily destroy the flowers. Less pollen in the flowers also means that the flowers last longer and will not cause allergic reactions.
These varieties generally do not reach the same height as older varieties. This makes them more suitable for the average home garden with the average height being 1.5 metres. Because the flowers still produce pollen, they are attractive to bees.
Double-flowered varieties are available, as well as flowers in a wide range of colours including traditional yellows, through to yellow-orange, orange, rust, maroon, lemon, and combinations of colours. Bronze Shades is a variety containing a wide range of colours.
Flowers will last for an extended period in a vase if they have been picked when they are young and fresh, preferably in the morning.