Avoid the popular summer graveyard for your plants!

DYING PLANTS: In the summer heat.

EACH year many plants succumb to problems related to the hot summer sun, the searing heat of strong winds from North Africa and parallel poor watering.
Some gardeners look on in bewilderment as plant after plant die. Unfortunately the reasons are frequently human and not quirks of nature.
Here we look at some of the primary reasons for plants dying.F

Over Optimism
1.    Assuming that Spanish plants do not need watering as they are natural to Spain.  This is incorrect.  They do until they get their tap roots down which may take several years of nursing.
2.    Delaying watering because a summer storm is forecast. Unfortunately they often pass by!

Forgetfulness / Poor Organisation
3.    Unclear agreement as to who waters what, where and when.
4.    A failure to remember that you planted an expensive special plant in an out of the way part of the garden last week or perhaps last month and forgetting to water it or extend the drip watering system.
5.    With a busy social life you are not around to water in the cool of the late evening or up early enough in the morning to water before the temperature has soared.

Par Boiling Plant / Foliage and Roots
6.    Watering in the midday sun rather than early morning or late evening.
7.    Watering with scalding water from a hose that has been lying in the sun for most of the day. Always ensure that you run off the hot water onto a terrace before starting to water.
8.    Using hot washing up water to water plants convenient to the kitchen door. Cool it down first.

9.    Failure to water hanging baskets, containers and beds of annuals daily, even twice daily on the hottest days. Help yourself by planting in semi-shade and not in full sun.
10.    Letting newly purchased plants dry out before planting and then failing to water and nurse plants back to full strength before planting out.
11.    Shallow daily watering of surface of root ball instead of deep watering three times a week to reach the base of the root ball and tap roots.

Poor Planting In Pots / Containers
12.    Using a fast drying soil in containers/pots/raised beds rather than a water absorbing compost to which a small quantity of water retaining gel such as TerraCottem has been added.
13.    Use of thin walled terracotta pots that dry out very quickly by capillary action. Spend a little more and buy heavier thicker walled or sealed pots. Also ensure you use a drainage tray for retaining water.

Burning of Foliage or Roots
14.    Watering non-acid (alkaline) loving plants with the back wash of the swimming pool. Our neighbour unknowingly killed off some of our chrysanthemum frutscens but luckily the more resistant acid soil loving rock roses and lantanas survived.
15.    Foliage feeding with over strength foliar fertilizer, especially when done in full sun and when the leaves are very dry. Do follow recommended dilutions. It is better to use at half strength and feed at double the recommended frequency.
16.    Over application of granular fertilizer especially around the trunk rather than around the natural rain drip line.
17.    Burning off soft leaved plants by use of over strength insecticides, especially if applied in the middle of the day.

Poor Plant Ties
18.    Supporting the trunks of trees and branches of climbing/rambling shrubs with tight ties which do not allow for growth. Plants correctly watered and fed will grow fast in the third and fourth year. Unless ties are loosened they can strangle otherwise strong plants.
19.    Use of flat plastic covered wire to tie up plants. The thin edge can act like a saw in strong winds.
20.    Insecure stakes that come out of the ground in high winds causing the heavy leafy top of a young flowering tree to snap off.

Poor Spacing of Plants.
21.    Planting too close so that the faster growing plants spread to touch each other and smother smaller plants in between.
22.    Planting of plants with large gaps between so that the tops of their root balls roast in the sun and dry out quickly.

Failure to Mulch
23.    The failure to mulch young shrubs with compost, stones, chippings or rocks can result in the shallow root ball drying out before the permanent deep tap roots are established.
24.    The failure to mulch annuals with a water absorbing/retaining compost so that shallow roots  dry out by midday when temperatures soar.

Poor Insect/Mildew Control
25.    Failure to spray preventatively, only taking action when plants are half dead already. For instance geraniums need to be sprayed two or three times a week from mid March to mid October to have a real chance of combating the African moth.
26.    Planting out seedlings/young plants, especially annuals and perennials and forgetting to apply a snail/slug repellent around the plants.
27.    Thinking about snails and slugs but forgetting about caterpillars. Some are very small but can be amazingly hungry. Young seedlings/plants can be destroyed overnight.
28.    Failure to watch out for and treat first signs of mildew, rust, scale etc.
29.    Failure to kill off ant’s nests in plant pots as soon as noticed or if seriously affected failing to immediately repot the plant in ant free soil.

Root Disturbance
30.    The partial/full digging up of plants by cats and dogs
31.    . Loosening the soil around annuals and recently planted perennials when pulling or digging out weeds growing close to the stems and failing to replace, firm and water in the disturbed soil.

32.    The failures to summer weed. Thirsty fast growing perennial weeds can soon smother and starve annuals and shallow rooted shrubs.
33.    The use of weed killers near to delicate plants.

Poor Pruning
34.    Failure to deadhead annuals as soon as the first flowers have dried back thus allowing seed to develop and mature. The plants therefore believe that their useful reproductive life cycle is over, and do not produce new flower buds and die.
35.    Pruning too hard to that the sap dries back and the plant dies.

Poor Choice of Plants.
36.    The purchase of varieties of plants:
•    Inappropriate to your soil and microclimate.
•    Forced in unnatural perfect hot house conditions and not acclimatising them before planting out.

So check back through the list and count the number of statements that you have ticked. My observation on scores is as follows
0–10: Trying hard, but being honest, even the most dedicated of gardeners make mistakes or are forgetful at times.
10-20: Generally more attentive summer gardening required.
21–36: The garden centres must love you!!

The purchasing of replacement plants can improve their profits dramatically! Perhaps you need a daily gardener in the summer or Need to create a courtyard or paved garden with fewer plants. Hopefully the above thoughts will prevent some summer failures. But remember Murphy’s Law, here adapted; “Nature watches continuously for the chance to prove that expatriate gardeners don’t understand the natural necessities of nature!”

© Dick Handscombe 

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