The first rules for preparing your plants for a heatwave are:
- Heavy watering before it hits;
- Putting mulch around your plants to retain as much moisture in the soil as possible;
- Moving potted plants indoors or under some shade.
But as our heatwaves become more intense and last longer, this action plan may not be enough. So, if your garden can’t be moved into some shade, think about moving shade into your garden.
Most plants from Mediterranean areas are conditioned to coping with hot dry summers, as are many Australian natives. But most exotic favourites not only wilt but also burn when it’s sizzling.
Erecting temporary shade doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive: a large beach or smaller rain umbrella usually does the trick in small gardens. But with heatwaves now becoming a regular reality of our summers, if you have a large back and front garden, it’s worthwhile investing in some shade cloth from a nursery or hardware store that you can put up quickly, then dismantle and tuck away in a box when it cools down.
The colour of the cloth is not important, but the protection it offers is. For ornamental plants, go for 70 to 90% protection. For vegetables and fruit trees, 50 to 60% is enough. If you want to go cheaper, old sheets or curtains also do the trick.
You’ll also need stakes (bamboo, metal or wooden), poly pipe large enough to slide over the stake, and twine.
Drive two stakes into the ground at the edge of your garden bed and cut the poly pipe long enough to create an arch over the plants from the base of the stakes. Repeat at the other end of the bed, and at sections in between if needed.
Then throw the shade cloth, or sheets, over the arches. The cloth shouldn’t go to the ground as you want to allow for some ventilation and it’s usually the top of the plants that cop it the worst when the day is roasting. Tie the ends of the cloth to the stakes to ensure it doesn’t blow or drift away. If your plants are small, you can dispense with the poly pipe, but make sure the shade cloth is still secured to the stakes
When the heat dissipates, remove the cloth. If you want, you can leave the stakes and poly pipe in the beds ready for the next wave of heat until you’re sure the heat has lied down for the rest of the summer.
And don’t forget to water.
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