Mid to late summer is often the time of year when beginning gardeners give up planning or expanding the garden and focus on keeping their existing plants in good shape. This might mean watering them, putting up temporary shade, or moving potted plants. But it is also a good time of year to observe your garden.
Observing Changes in Your Garden
Gardens change because plants change. Each time you add a bed, put in an improvement, or take something out, you make changes. Each thing that is different will affect other things in your garden. For example, you might notice that your Queensland Bottle Tree has shot up several inches during the past year. Now, instead of the shade stopping short of your low-water garden bed, a portion of the bed is shaded from early morning until about ten o’clock. Then the shadow slowly recedes, puddles around the bottle tree, just as it should, but then swings over and shades the vegetable garden. This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how much sun your garden normally receives. But if it cuts into the “at least 6 hours of sunlight per day” for certain plants, you are likely to notice a dip in production. You then need to make some decisions about your garden beds and their location for future years.
Making Notes of Garden Changes
If you’ve been gardening in this spot for a while, you probably already have a map of your growing area. If you do not, now is a good time to make one. When you do, make copies of your original so you can make notes without ruining your primary record keeping.
If possible, observe the shade patterns around large, permanent plantings and buildings at ten am, noon, and two pm. Use pencil hatching to colour in the shaded area without hiding things already on your garden map. Note the time of observation on the shading. This will help you plan changes that will need to be made in autumn, winter, or early spring – times when the shadows will be different from midsummer, thanks to the tilt of the earth and its yearly spiral around the sun.
Taking notes will also help you note whether lower-growing plants than your bottle tree are thriving. For example, your Native Australian finger lime might be reaching toward the available sun, indicating that something above or beside it might need to be pruned back. Some smaller plants might even need to be transplanted from their current location to promote better growth.
Awareness of Water Consumption
If you live in an area where mid to late summer also means dealing with water rationing, you might want to be aware of your plants’ behaviour when appropriately watered. Usually, that means things like saving bath or washing water to give struggling plants a drink, but sometimes you can have the opposite problem.
One gardener noticed that the plants near his watering reservoir were wilting as if they were not getting enough water, while his tall cactus plant was behaving as if it was getting over-watered – even though he knew that he had not given it any water beyond its weekly dampening.
As it turns out, this particular type of cactus has wide-ranging surface roots that actively seek moisture. These surface roots had quickly grown over to the “wetlands” part of the garden. Like a child guzzling forbidden soft drinks, it was drinking in all the water it could reach. Consequently, it was dying of over-watering, while the plants in the moisture-rich area were dying from lack of water.
The solution: A deep-seated moisture-proof concrete wall to keep the greed cactus from slurping up more water than was good for it.
While the moisture-loving cactus is an extreme example of plant behaviour, plants often aggressively compete for space and resources. Midsummer is a good time to check for invasive plants, parasitic plants, and timid “keeper” plants that might need a little protection. If the aggressive grower is a plant you wish to keep, you might need to resort to activities such as dead-heading (removing spent blossoms before they can make seeds), pruning, and perhaps even some transplanting.
Enjoy Your Garden in Midsummer
Early morning (before 10:00 am) and late evening (after 2:00 pm) are good times to enjoy your designer garden in midsummer. Frequently, these are times when you can catch a glimpse of the rarest blooms or observe pollinators at work.
You might even invest in some mosquito netting and a hammock so that you can enjoy a peaceful siesta in your midsummer designer garden.