With extremely dry and hot weather conditions, with very little if any prospect of rain, certain actions may be undertaken in the garden to assist plants.
The prospect of further water restrictions in January will impact on the home gardener's ability to water plants in their usual manner.
As these are extremes that we haven't had for many years, some experimenting may be warranted, with actions tailored to suit individual gardens.
Gardens may have larger shrubs and trees that have taken a number of years to establish and the loss of the plants could be quite detrimental to the general plant scape of the garden.
Lawns, however, generally respond quite quickly to rain, so, while the view of dry areas may not be very appealing, water resources can perhaps be used more effectively in other ways.
Perennial plants, those that regrow each year such as salvias, are usually quite tall and bushy, therefore requiring more water to reach along the stems. It might be preferable to cut the stems back quite hard and then cover the base of the plant with a good mulch in an attempt to reduce evaporation rates.
It may also be prudent to take some cutting from the stems that have been removed, in case anything happens to the parent plant.
Pruning back weak growth in plants in general would be a good strategy, assisting the plant to maximise the use of any moisture available.
Observation of shrubs and trees will give an indication of how they are coping with the situation. If the leaves start to droop, or even curl up, it is the plant's way of conserving moisture.
A bucketful of water at this stage should help to save the plant. If this is applied in the later afternoon or early evening, the plant can absorb the moisture before hot winds reduce the impact of the watering.
Placing dishes or containers such as ice-cream containers under plants in pots allows water to be placed around the lower root systems of the plants. The plants can then absorb the water as required and this should reduce the amount of water that is used.
Tipping out the excess water perhaps weekly will stop it becoming a breeding area for mosquitoes, as well as ensuring the plants aren't sitting in water that has become stagnant and likely to result in fungal problems. Placing these plants in a semi-shaded area will also assist in lowering maintenance requirements.
Vegetables generally require larger amounts of moisture, although, if the soil has been well-prepared with good quantities of manures and compost, these substances should hold water for longer periods.
In the end, the average home gardener may have to make decisions about which plants should be kept alive, if possible, and which ones might be more easily replaced when conditions are more favourable.
Although there are a number of different flowers that are associated with Christmas, including Australian Christmas Bush, one of the best known ones would probably be the poinsettia.
These are easily recognized for their deep red bracts that cover the plants. The flowers of the poinsettia are actually insignificant white buds that are surrounded by the familiar red bracts. Flowers with white bracts are also available.
Poinsettias that are available now, in dwarf forms, may have been specially bred to grow to that size. Originally the smaller plants were either treated with chemicals that restricted their growth or they were pruned hard. If the plants have not been bred to retain their miniature size the they will return to a more normal size once they have been planted out into the garden.
Poinsettias respond to hours of darkness by producing their flowers. In the northern hemisphere, where nights are longer because it in presently winter, poinsettias would flower naturally at this time of the year. However, in order to get plants to flower for the Christmas season in the southern hemisphere, plants are kept in large buildings where the hours of daylight and darkness are controlled.
Poinsettias can generally be propagated easily from cuttings, taken in September. The cutting material should be about 15cm in length or have three leaf nodes. The cutting material should be a soft wood growing tip. The cutting piece may be dipped into a hormone powder and placed into a damp soil mixture. This should contain equal parts of peat moss, perlite and sharp sand.
The soil should not be saturated as this may encourage the development of fungal diseases. Misting the leaves would be an ideal way of providing adequate moisture. New roots should have begun to from in about three weeks. Care should be taken when preparing the cuttings as poinsettias contain a sticky white sap, which may cause irritation if it comes into contact with some skin types.
If sap does come into contact with skin, then wash the area immediately. If may be preferable to wear gloves when cutting the plant material. Placing the fresh cutting material into hot water, leaving them there until the water has cooled, will reduce the sap flow.
Plants can be used as indoor decorations over Christmas, but they should then be returned to a position of semi-shade prior to placing them into direct sunlight.