ARTICLE Sharon Stephenson
Ah, the great Kiwi summer – sunshine, BBQs and as much time as possible spent in the great outdoors.
It doesn't matter if you have a large backyard or a compact courtyard or patio, the chances are you'll want to entertain family and friends this summer in an outdoor space that doesn't take all your time maintaining it.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to have a great looking garden is to keep your lawn (if you have one) long and lush.
Brown, bare, weed-infested lawns are often symptoms of poor species choice, under- watering or scalping, which means cutting lawns too low, says Auckland-based Zones Landscape Designer Nichola Vague.
“It’s a misconception that cutting lawns low reduces the cutting frequency,” says Nichola. “Instead, mow lawns as high as your mower allows. Longer turf wears better, but also helps to suppress weeds such as oxalis”. Aim to only ever remove the top third of the turf and increase mowing frequency to keep your lawn looking groomed, she adds.
Nichola also suggests keeping your lawn looking good this summer by watering and feeding it with seaweed tonic once a month, preferably before rain or irrigation.
“Ultimately, though, choosing a lawn species that will survive the summer drought months is your best option.”
When it comes to the rest of your garden, watering is also key in warm weather. Landscape specialist Amanda Hill says the best time to water plants is morning. “Watering in the early morning reduces evaporation and scorching of leaves by the sun. However, if you can only water in the afternoon then allow enough time for foliage to dry out before sunset as this reduces the risk of mildew and other fungi attacking leaves.” Amanda also suggests watering on calm days to prevent wind drift and evaporation. “And don't forget the general rule of thumb – it's better to water occasionally but with plenty of water, rather than a little water often.”
Keep your garden blooming this summer by applying a thick layer of mulch to garden areas to help retain moisture and reduce competition from weeds, suggests Nichola. And don't go past adding nutrients, which help to feed and correct mineral deficiencies.
“A soluble fertiliser with added seaweed can often do the trick – ask your landscape garden or local plant centre for the one that's best suited to your location and soil conditions. If you're using a spray fertiliser, spray early in the morning or evening if you can, when the temperature isn't too hot.”
Just bear in mind that spraying with too many chemicals during summer can burn your plants. Which is one of the reasons an increasing number of Kiwis are opting to use organic fertilisers. Neem oil, for example, is a safe, non-toxic pesticide that can be safely used on food, leaves no dangerous residue in the soil and effectively reduces or kills pests, as well as preventing powdery mildew on plants. It has been proven to be a useful repellent for around 200 species of chewing or sucking insects as well as effective against other kinds of issues such as root rot.
And while it's probably not the most exciting thing you'll do this summer, to ensure your flowers keep blooming, make sure you deadhead them to promote more flowers (depending on the species).
“Taking time to deadhead, weed, prune, and tidy up will get you in tune with what the plants need to thrive over summer,” says Amanda. “It will give you the chance to see how each plant reacts to weather changes and how to correct issues such infestations before they become a problem.”
Amanda also suggests checking the roots of any plants that don't seem to be thriving. “If, for example, you notice stunted growth, check the roots of the plant by carefully examining and digging around the underlying soil - sometimes they will need to be gently opened or teased so that they can spread out in the soil.”
If your garden is more potted plants than lush foliage and flowers, a key tip to maintaining your pots over summer is to keep them well irrigated and fed and ensure they stay as cool as possible. Potted plants, especially those in terracotta pots, are vulnerable to overheating, says Nichola.
“It is always important to choose the right species for the location and pot type. Often drought tolerant species are the best for pot plants.”
She also suggests ensuring generous sized pots with adequate soil are used (“Always use larger sized pots where possible”) and re-potting plants yearly so that they have access to fresh nutrients and room to grow.”
And when the sun's really beating down, it's a good idea to temporarily relocate pots to a cooler part of the garden to avoid the worst heat of the day.
Find inspiration in this case study on the creation of a Summer sanctuary.
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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.