Dry times ahead – Predicted El Niño to affect gardens and lawns

El Niño — they’re two words that strike fear into the hearts of gardeners around the world, and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology is predicting
a 70 per cent likelihood of such a weather event in Australia for the summer of 2014/15 — some are even saying it could be the most powerful
El Niño event since 1997/98.

Dry times ahead - Predicted El Niño to affect gardens and lawns

An El Niño is a change in Pacific Ocean temperatures and atmosphere that typically causes drought, extreme heat and bushfires in Australia. It means
a very long, dry and hot summer, but Victa, Australia’s garden experts, together with horticulturalist Adam Woodhams say that making efforts to adapt
your garden to a drier, warmer climate can pay dividends — but the time to start is now.

“After an unseasonably warm and dry winter, lawns and gardens are in need of some extra special attention to ensure they are set up to withstand high temperatures
and low rainfall,” says Woodhams.

“Gardeners will need to adopt some simple, sustainable gardening practices. Keep an eye on your garden for signs of stress and understand that some more
traditional plants will not survive hot, dry conditions. Some plants are less thirsty than others, many natives are always a good bet as they have
adapted to Australia’s harsh conditions over thousands of years. As a bonus, many flower beautifully and attract and feed native wildlife.”

Garden care tips

Watering

  • Water slowly for longer. This way you’re watering deeply and encouraging plants to develop deeper root systems, making them stronger and better able
    to survive hot, dry times.
  • Target water your garden. Ensure you give the plants that need it a good drink. Don’t wave the hose around the garden to just give everything a little
    splash.
  • Install a sub-soil or sub-mulch drip-line watering system and connect it to a computerised timer set to turn on a couple of times a week in the early
    morning.

Fertilise

  • A healthy, well fertilised garden has a better chance of withstanding the heat. Fertilise with a hose in seaweed tonic or biofertiliser. Don’t over
    apply fertiliser as this can have a detrimental effect on your plants and the soil. And for best results use purpose designed fertilisers on specific
    plants — citrus, rose, acid-loving, native etc.

Mulch

  • After fertilising, apply fresh mulch to all garden areas and pots. Mulch provides a permeable barrier that helps to retain moisture in the soil and
    prevents erosion by water and wind, reducing weed growth and keeping plant roots insulated from hot weather.

Weed

  • Weeds can take-off very quickly in warm weather so make sure any that pop-up are removed before they flower and set seed.

Pot plants

  • Grow water-hungry vegetables and salad plants, plus smaller fruit trees such as lemons, in pots near the house so you can keep an eye on their watering
    requirements. To save your plants and save water, group them by their water needs, keeping thirstier plants together.

Adding new plants to your garden

  • “Spring is a great time for planting with nurseries full of fabulous new plants,” says Woodhams. To give your plants the best chance of success,
    soak them in a bucket of water while you dig the hole to at least twice as wide as the pot size. Improve the soil with composts or manures, position
    the plant at the same height as it was in the pot and gently backfill the hole with soil before watering in well with seaweed tonic or biofertiliser.
    Finally add mulch.

Lawn care tips

Water, water everywhere

  • Invest in a good quality oscillating sprinkler with an adjustable range and pattern.
  • Water in the cool of morning to charge your lawn up for the day ahead. If you water in the evening after a hot day the soil will be warm and water
    will evaporate and be wasted. There’s also the chance you’ll bring on fungal problems.
  • Use a tap timer when running your sprinkler to avoid over watering.
  • Consider retrofitting a sub-surface drip-line watering system to your lawn areas. Although a fiddly project, it’s well worth it for the water and time
    savings you’ll make.

Tonic for your lawn

  • Regularly apply a hose-on seaweed tonic or biofertiliser to help it cope with hot, dry weather.

Aerate and dress your lawn

  • Fix drainage problems or dry, compacted areas by opening up the soil with a lawn fork. Every 15cm or so push a fork into a depth of 5cm to 10cm and
    gently rock back and forth. Once done, rake coarse washed sand or lawn top dressing mix over the area before watering. If you have larger areas
    to aerate, hire a spiked lawn roller from your local hire shop.

Tune up your mower

  • Before firing up your power garden equipment after its winter lull give it some TLC. Change oil in 4-stroke equipment. Replace spark plugs and air
    filters. Check your mower blades are sharp, clean and undamaged and replace them if needs be.

Mowing tips

  • Keep your mower cutting level reasonably high and switch to mulching mode. The mulch will help lawn tolerate hot dry conditions and provides a ready
    supply of natural organic matter and nutrients.

Victa garden and lawn care equipment is available from leading outdoor power equipment specialists. Call 1800 356 632 or visit www.victa.com.au to find your local stockist.

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