By Ali Manns
Summertime … and the garden is pumping. The newly planted veg and herbs have settled in. The bees and the butterflies are thronging to the flowers. The trees are loaded with ripening fruit. The yard is looking abundant. The next challenge? To keep it that way. With an eye on the prizes of a plentiful harvest and swathes of floral colour, the task for the hot season is keeping plants thriving. That means supporting their resilience to disease, pests, and hot weather, as well as the hot, drying winds that visit us in January. For all this water is our friend.IrrigationWhen it comes to irrigation there are a multitude of ways to deliver water to the soil – from high tech timer-controlled hoses and grey-water redirection systems to handheld watering cans. Which method to go with is a matter for your budget and time. But, whichever you choose, what is most important is how efficiently water gets to where it counts – your plants’ roots. Water is best delivered at soil level. This is key to keeping soil moisture level consistent for the underground food web that gets nutrients to the roots as well as ensuring our plants are well hydrated as they grow, flower and fruit. It can be as simple as directing a watering can beneath plant tops and close to the soil, installing a soaker or drip irrigation system through your beds, or using the ancient technology of olla (terracotta jars buried in the soil which gradually release water). In contrast, overhead watering and sprinkler systems that wet only the leaves are to be avoided. Wetting foliage brings several problems – little water makes it to the soil below, a lot is lost through evaporation and run-off, and the humidity created is the perfect condition for diseases like mildew to take hold.How often, when and how muchWatering in the cool of the early morning and evening is better than midday to avoid losing water to evaporation, and burning leaves. In heatwave conditions the garden will likely need daily or even twice daily watering but in milder weather it can be reduced to one or two deep watering sessions per week. If you’re unsure watering is needed, check the top 5cm of the soil. If the soil is dry then it is time to water. Deep watering helps maintain consistent soil moisture levels and encourages plants to grow deeper root systems, which in turn makes them stronger, healthier and more disease, pest, drought and wind tolerant. For potted plants, which dry out quicker again than their in-ground counterparts, frequent deep watering is especially important.While plant species vary in their watering needs, a general guide is that leafy edible greens and those with water-rich fruits need more water than large leafed and root vegetables. For example, lettuces, cucumbers and tomatoes are thirstier than zucchini, beans and potatoes. Younger plants and recent transplants will also need plenty of water to help them establish their root systems and develop that all important drought tolerance. MulchAnd to maximise the value of your irrigation efforts be sure your veg and flower beds and pots are wearing a summer coat of mulch. Not only will it suppress the weeds that might compete with your garden, but it will also prevent water evaporation, soil erosion and water runoff. Here’s to a summer of homegrown salads, tabletop posies and memorable family gatherings al fresco!