We often get asked for gardening tips, so have decided to do a weekly post describing things we do to keep our garden going well with little effort.
Here’s this week’s…
The rainfall seems to be changing. It seems that we’re getting heavier downpours where the water all comes at once, rather than gently soaking into the ground over a little time. Friend’s who are up on the math of global heating are tipping that to be the norm for the predictable future.
This means that there is a lot more runoff from hard surfaces, including compacted, overly dry or overly mulched garden soils. The rain doesn’t have time to penetrate to the subsoil and the excess water can also prevent incoming water from sitting around for long enough and it becomes more difficult to achieve a constant level of moisture below ground. The water won’t have had time to soak down deeply enough to wet the subsoil or even the soil immediately under a dense, dry mulch layer. We’re looking for constant growth and that means constant moisture. So, folks are going to have to change our tactics for watering.
At Ligaya Garden, we water just before it is tipped to rain, starting in the drier periods of late Winter. A little water at that stage can help the rain soak through the mulch and penetrate deeper into the root zone of plants. This way, too, the rain even helps wash away the contaminants in tap water. Of course, if the rain’s predicted to continue for a week or two, as happened recently, then you can skip this if you want. The hard thing with predicting the rain nowadays for we local, Gawler gardeners is that the heavy downpours may dump most of their water further south or up into the hills, leaving us with a literal ‘five minutes in heaven’ (for gardeners, that is, not teenagers).
It might seem counter-intuitive but late Winter and early Spring are excellent times to start your watering regime for the warm weather.
Unless you garden in wicking beds, late Winter is the time to check down into the soil to see how much moisture is actually in the ground. The heavy mulch that some gardeners have can be detrimental to their garden by actually preventing water reaching the subsoil. Unless designed and applied with water penetration in mind, mulch can absorb or even repel water falling on them. If you have a lot of mulch and you can see that the water’s not getting through, pull some of it back as the weather warms to allow water penetration into the soil and allow the growing warmth of the Sun kick off another cycle of soil life.
Check your soil down to 30 or even 60 centimetres below your mulch layer and make sure it’s moist down that far. If it’s not, then water. Ensuring your soil is moist down to 30+ centimetres will ensure that it will have a big enough reservoir to get plants through further into the heat of Summer. 30 cm will be enough for shallow rooted plants and trees with surface root systems. For larger perennials and trees, 60 cm is what we’ve found to be the best and is easily achievable in a small garden like ours.
Constant moisture also helps soil organisms – microbes, insects and fungi stay healthy and active and contributing to garden health. The anaerobic microbes that dominate in a healthy soil during the cold weather will do their job better with a little moisture and when they die off in the warmer weather when more oxygen gets down into the soil, they will provide a bumper crop food for the microbes that follow. This will, in make many more nutrients available for the plants and the microbes that live within them.
So give your plants a head start this Summer by building up a subsoil moisture reservoir now.