By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe, practical gardeners and authors living in Spain for twenty five years.
Spanish summers are hot and gardens need some extra care to ensure that they are colourful and survive the scorching southerly winds. This article indicates what needs to be done.
Keeping Plants Alive
Keeping plants alive consists of four things:
- Keeping the roots of plants constantly damp both in the garden and containers. Whether you water with a drip irrigation system, hose or watering can, this can be difficult to judge unless you dig a hole to check what layers are dry and at what level the soil is still moist. The latter is time consuming, difficult to do in closely planted beds and judgemental as what one person regards as damp another person may regard as wet and it’s a hard lesson to learn when your favourite plants keel over and die. The solution is to purchase a soil moisture meter. Typically they have a probe to push into the earth in a garden bed or the compost in a pot down to 15 centimetres of depth and do not need a battery to operate them. The best have a second probe that measures the acidity of the soil or compost. Ours also has a light meter which is useful in checking the amount of light reaching to the back of a naya or the shade of a tree where you are considering placing pot plants.
- Placing tender plants that are easily shrivelled in full sun or by blazing hot winds in semi, dappled or full shade and watering twice a day if necessary. This includes annual herbs such as parsley or basil.
- Keeping roots cool by shading them with slabs of rock or mulches of compost or bark chippings.
- Ensuring that you plant up your garden with plants that are naturally drought resistant and capable of slowing down their growth and moisture requirements during the hottest weeks.
Cacti and succulents are among the most draught resistant plants, but there are many others as indicated in Part Four of ‘Your Garden in Spain – From Planning to Planting’ (ISBN 978-84-89954-670)
Keeping the Garden Colourful
Stimulating prolonged or repeat flowerings consists of watering as above, plus regular dead heading as soon as flowers start to dry up, to prevent the plants from using energy to produce seeds rather than new flower buds.
Stimulating plants to flower continuously or again requires that you dead head as soon as flowers have finished to prevent seeds being formed, watering as above and minimising the use of feeds high in nitrogen. Most plants will grow and flower well without regular feeding, but should you consider it necessary use a feed high in potash rather than nitrogen. Regular feeding with the latter may result in excessive greenery at the expense of flowers.
Fruit Trees Also Need Care
It is essential that fruit trees are watered thoroughly so that their deepest roots are kept constantly damp enabling the fruit to develop continuously. Intermittent watering can result in splitting fruit, major fruit falls or insect and fungal attacks. If you planted your fruit trees in previously enriched soil and gave the trees a spring feed, a summer feed is not essential.
The Vegetable Plot can still be Productive
Provided they are frequently watered, fruit vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, squash and melons swell and ripen well in sunny weather. Root vegetables such as peanuts, carrots and beetroot will grow and keep well in the soil if kept damp, but quick growing radishes will soon go to seed if not harvested when young. As the summer warms up flowering artichokes will stop producing and July is a good time to sow seeds to produce broccoli plants for planting out in the autumn, however, leaf vegetables are best shaded for at least part of the day to keep them growing without going to seed. Weeds will be less of a problem than in the spring, but will need keeping under control by hoeing and adding to the compost heap. It’s a good idea to dampen the compost heap each month to prevent it from drying out.
The above actions should help you enjoy a colourful and productive summer garden, but do watch the garden for unexpected problems. Before the summer, read chapter 6.16 ‘Be a plant detective’ in our book ‘Your Garden in Spain’ which lists fifty ways of killing plants- many of them related to summer conditions.
Clodagh and Dick at Homes Garden and Outdoor Living Show
On Monday/Tuesday 22 and 23 May Dick and Clodagh Handscombe, Spain’s best known expatriate gardening authors, will be giving talks and answering any questions you have on the Gardening in Spain on stand No 43 at the Homes Garden and Outdoor Living Show open from 11am until 8pm at the Castle at San Miquel de Salinas just south of Torrevieja.
Three talks will be given each day; at 12.30 and 16.30 they will talk about ‘Achieving a Good Garden in Spain’. The third talk will be at 15.30 each day and will be about ‘Living Well from Your Garden.’ Between and after the talks Clodagh and Dick will answer your gardening questions and have autographed books available.
The show will have many interesting stalls and several places to eat and drink, so why not put in your diary for a day out. More information about the show will be found on www.homesandgardens.es
© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe May 2012