Top Tips To Help Your Garden Survive Summer

Glenbrook native plant nursery volunteers

Australian Plants Society Blue Mountains Group members Ann Dent, Teresa Bernacki and Daphne Mitchell who help manage Glenbrook Native Plant Nursery and maintain the Reserve. 

Story and photos by Julie Nance

There are many steps you can take to protect your garden from the impacts of hot, dry conditions. Although an El Nino summer is not the ideal time to plant, even newbies in your garden can survive if you are prepared to invest some TLC. Glenbrook Native Plant Nursery and Reserve volunteers share their advice on how to help native plants thrive and, in turn, cool down your home environment.  

Key Points:

  • Native plants are best able to withstand the harsh El Nino conditions.
  • Planting in summer requires more time and effort but keeping plants alive and healthy is possible with careful planning, water-wise practices and vigilance.
  • Avoid your plants experiencing heat stress by using items around your home to provide shade.  

After more than 20 years volunteering at the Glenbrook Native Plant Reserve and Nursery, manager Teresa has lost none of her enthusiasm for gardening and sharing hints with the public. I met up with her one morning at the nursery, along with Ann Dent and Daphne Mitchell, two of her many fellow volunteers. The trio help to maintain the reserve and manage the small nursery which has been operating since 1967. It specialises in Australian plants and those indigenous to the Blue Mountains.

While the advice they have provided is geared to native plants, there are many tips that are helpful for your garden generally, as we look ahead to predictions of scorching temperatures and possible water restrictions. 

What to plant in summer: what is the most forgiving?

Autumn, winter and early spring are the best times to plant because it gives plants the highest chance to establish. However, if you must plant in summer, choose native plants that are going to be the hardiest and most drought resistant.  

A good hint is to walk around your area, including the local bush, and see what plants appear happy and not under stress. Suggested plants include:

  • Grevilleas. These withstand really hot weather, including westerly sun, but they need to be shaded when you first plant them. 
  • Banksias are good, as are Acacias.
  • Baeckeas do well anywhere.
  • Paper daisy seems to go OK. 
  • Kunzea ambigua is a local shrub that gets beautiful gum-blossom type flowers that the bees and butterflies love.
  • The Callistemon (bottlebrush) seems to cope well too.  
native plants for sale at glenbrook native plant nursery

Examples of plants able to withstand drought conditions well: Endemic species, Callistemon, Banksia and a Grevillea cultivar such as Lemon Daze. 

A Banksia thriving near the entrance to the nursery and reserve.  

New plants  

If you are planting in summer, it’s a good idea to soak the plant first in a bucket of tonic e.g. well-diluted seaweed solution. Do this for at least 10 minutes until all the bubbles have come out of the plant pot. After digging the hole for the plant, pour the bucket of water into the hole and let it soak down. 

When planting, create a little saucer shape/indentation around the stem, rather than having the soil level. This will help keep the water from flowing away. After planting, water it again and sprinkle a bit of slow-release native fertilizer. Put mulch on top, but keep it away from the stem of the plant. 

Positioning, shade and a watchful eye 

A northerly aspect is ideal. Try to avoid planting in spots that receive the full force of the westerly sun which is incredibly harsh. If you have no option and that’s the way your garden is oriented, shade the new plant. You can use an old umbrella or, if you’re trimming a shrub, poke the trimmings into the ground next to the plant so it’s getting some shade. You can also net with a bit of shade cloth, over and around the plant. You don’t have to buy expensive things; just use anything you’ve got at home, including fallen tree branches.     

No matter what the position, you need to keep an eye on the new plant. You could have a plant in a northern position that has a driveway and a concrete patio next to it, with the reflection and heat off hard surfaces a killer for plants. It just radiates heat for hours and hours after the sun has gone. Plants near hard surfaces need extra care. 

Glenbrook native plant nursery volunteers at work

Teresa, Daphne and Ann and other nursery volunteers are happy to share advice on how to keep your plants healthy, even in the harshest of conditions.  

A nutritional boost   

Before and during summer give your plants a seaweed mix which will help them resist disease. If you see a new or established plant looking a bit sad, you may want to put seaweed solution in a watering can and spray it over the whole plant. It will absorb the solution through the leaves and give it a boost.

Wise watering 

Even natives may need regular watering in summer. Once a week is a good idea until the plants are established, because watering more often would result in the plant developing shallow roots. Deep root systems are better able to withstand drought conditions and watering less often makes the plant send down roots looking for water. If the plant looks like it’s under stress, it will need watering more often. Choose cooler parts of the day to water e.g. early morning or late afternoon, to avoid evaporation.  

For new plants and those under stress, a slow soak is best. Put the hose on a tiny trickle and leave it under the plant. You can set an alarm and move the hose onto the next plant after a few minutes. If you see the water running off, you’ve got the hose on too hard. Another option is to set up a drip irrigation system that minimises water waste and evaporation.  

Soil wetters and mulch

If your garden is very dry, using a ‘soil wetter’ can help the soil absorb and retain water. A natural non-chemical option is agar agar, a thickening agent, as recommended by conservationist and horticulturist Jerry Coleby-Williams on ABC’s Gardening Australia.

Mulch also helps support the soil, reduces evaporation and allows the water to slowly seep down. It breaks down in the long term, providing nutrients. Don’t pile the mulch up around the stem or trunk because it can cause it to rot; leave a bit of space. Finer mulch is best. You can also add leaves from around your garden, running over them first with your mower if you don’t want big pieces sticking up. 

glenbrook nursery

Mulch and leaves help to keep the moisture in and weeds down.

Maintaining an even temperature 

There seems to be a move towards people having lower growing plants in their gardens. However, when you have tall trees and denser shrubbery that provide shade, your garden can be 10 degrees cooler than the street. You’ll notice if you have a plant that grows near a brick wall, it will cool it down in summer.  

A combination of trees and ground cover is ideal. Ground cover smothers weeds and keeps the ground cooler and the moisture in. It provides habitat for ground-dwelling animals such as insects and lizards. There will always be a ground cover that works well in your area; it’s like a living mulch. Good examples are Dichondra repens, Viola hederacea or Chrysocephalum, which has a soft leaf but it’s hardy and seems to cope quite well. 

Oplismenus hirtellus (basket grass) ground cover

Daphne showing off the excellent ground cover: Oplismenus hirtellus (basket grass).

Combatting bugs 

If you have a range of different plants growing in your garden and you’ve got your habitat for insects, lizards and birds, they generally keep bugs down. No sprays are used in the nursery and reserve.

If you are establishing a garden and don’t have that big combination, you can use water to spray bugs away or even squash them with your hands. A plant under stress will be open to more issues including insects attacking it. Give the plant a boost using a seawood treatment and don’t forget to water! 

glenbrook native plant reserve entrance

The entrance to the reserve, a beautiful picnic spot featuring paths throughout the bushland.

Take Action:

  • Visit Glenbrook Native Plant Nursery and Reserve at 41 Great Western Highway, Glenbrook, opposite the Tourist Information Centre. Open 12pm-4pm on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Entry is free. Funds raised through native plant sales are put back into maintenance and management of the reserve.  
  • Get involved in the Bushcare Group at the Reserve which meets on the first and third Saturday of each month (except January): 9am-12pm. The Wednesday group meets each Wednesday 12pm-4pm.
  • Learn how Blue Mountains Wildplant Rescue Service’s Katoomba Native Plant Nursery continues to preserve and propagate plants of our World Heritage area:

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This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

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About Julie Nance

Julie Nance is a community storyteller with the Blue Mountains Planetary Health Initiative. In her coverage of the Lower Mountains area, she brings 30 years’ experience in communications, publishing and journalism. After specialising in health and social issues as a journalist, Julie led creative teams in the government and not-for-profit sectors including the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, YMCA NSW, Cancer Council NSW and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Julie is passionate about empowering people with quality information to help them make informed choices.

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