By Hannah Zwartz, Green Gardener
As we enter the season of abundance (zucchini and beans anyone?) it becomes clear just how greatly plants need water, and how gratefully they respond to being well watered. It’s the difference between a luxuriant lemon tree and a sad, twiggy one, or crisp, delicious cucumbers and lettuce and yellowing, bitter ones. For plants, water is their lifeblood.
Waterwise gardening doesn't mean not watering your garden. With the cost of water currently at $1 per 1,000 litres, growing veges won't break the bank for most people. But water meters means it does pay to think before you turn on the sprinklers. Target your watering: newly planted things will need daily attention, especially in hot weather, while established shrubs and perennials should be more self sufficient.
Water on Fridays: This always seems a strange piece of advice, but a lot of our water supply issues are caused by the summer peaks in usage. If you look at Kāpiti’s daily water use on a graph there are huge spikes on summer weekends, especially when it’s sunny and thousands of people all decide it would be a good day to wash the car, house or boat, or water the garden.
The problem is that our water infrastructure, the expensive system of pipes and pumps, has to cope with these dramatic peaks, even though that capacity might not be needed the other 90% of the year. So knocking the peaks off the water usage graphs is great news for ratepayers.
A deep watering on Fridays should see your plants through the weekend. Take your time over each area - watering deeply once a week is better for your plants than a shallow sprinkle. This is where a tap timer can come in handy. Attach a seep hose on low flow, set the timer for a half-hour or so and walk away.
It’s a bit like the `Slip, Slop, Slap’ approach to sun protection - a combination of things will protect your garden from drying out. If you think of bare soil as unprotected skin, the slop (sunscreen) would be mulch. Late summer is the time of year when you really notice the difference between mulched and unmulched soil. Under a layer of mulch, plant roots will still be able to find some water.
Slap on a hat? A bit of shade makes a big difference to plants, especially from the midday sun. Carefully placed deciduous trees or vines can keep veges and lawns green over the heat of summer (while also keeping humans cool). And the ‘slip’ part or the equation could be wind protection. Wind can be as drying as sun (just think of your washing on the line), so giving your plants some shelter can be as good as watering them.
A combination of actions, small in themselves, add up to a waterwise garden.
February in the garden:
Tomato care: Weekly, on a dry breezy day, tie in new shoots and pinch out unwanted shoots. Lower leaves can be removed once they start to turn yellow, allowing more light on to the fruit. Yellowing or cupped leaves could be signs of psyllids (fact sheet here).
Sowing and planting:
-Pop in more zucchini and beans as these hard-working plants will likely run out of steam before we run out of warm weather.
-Plant winter vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage before the weather cools down too much. Protect from cabbage butterflies with netting or old net curtains.
Plant: Late beans, basil, zucchini; lettuce, red onions, leeks.
Sow: Carrots, beetroot, fennel (direct – water these well); kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower (in trays, protected from white butterflies), calendula, alyssum, lettuce, green manures (sprinkle seeds of lupin or mustard into any bare spaces as you pull up summer crops.)
-Summer-prune grapes (back to two leaves beyond the bunches of fruit), and stonefruit trees once the fruit are gone. Pruning stonefruit in late summer avoids the risk of silverleaf spores infecting wounds.
-Prepare beds and gather seeds for autumn-sown fennel, peas and broad beans.
The Council Green Gardener, Hannah Zwartz, offers sustainable and waterwise gardening advice to local residents, community groups and schools.
Community Visits and workshops are free. Get together five friends or neighbours and invite the Green Gardener round.
Contact Hannah through the Council Service Desk 296 4700 or at email@example.com