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Brighten up the summer garden – Sue McDougall

As the weather warms up, the focus of our gardening efforts turns to the patio, verandah or alfresco area. Healthy potted plants add something special to an outdoor entertaining area and it’s not hard to keep them looking perfect.

  • Ensure the potting mix doesn’t become water repellent. Potted soil has the potential to dry out so much that water doesn’t soak into the plant; it just runs off the soil surface and down the sides of the pot. Apply a granular wetting agent to potted plants every few months throughout warm weather but make sure you wash it off the foliage and water it in well.
  • Liquid fertilising will reward you with the best potted plants in the neighbourhood and all your friends and family will want to know your secrets. Soluble liquid fertilisers are absorbed through the foliage very quickly and a mist spray applied fortnightly over all the leaves will result in gorgeous plants. Keep a small pump sprayer exclusively for foliar feeding potted plants.
  • Only sit plants in saucers of water for short periods of time such as when you are going away on holidays for a few weeks. The roots of plants will rot if they are left submerged in water continually.
  • Wipe the leaves of potted plants with white oil to keep insects at bay, remove dust and keep them glossy and green.

Summer Colour
Brighten up dull corners of the garden by adding instant colour. Bright, bold colours will make a space appear smaller and cosier, where as soft, pastel colours are the perfect choice for hot sunny areas.

Before planting, dig in some soil improver and then sprinkle wetting agent over the top and water it in well. Salvias, portulaca, petunia and vincas tolerate the hottest positions in the garden and will reward you with flowers for weeks. Remember to mulch the area after planting to keep the root system cool and reduce evaporation on the hottest days.

Even though Christmas has passed, the poinsettias will retain bright red bracts for months and often well into autumn. To keep these plants looking gorgeous, repot them into a larger pot with premium potting mix and apply liquid fertiliser over the foliage regularly.  The trick to keeping bracts bright red is through watering the soil and not the foliage. Apply water by submerging the pot in a bucket of water every couple of days. Allow all the air bubbles to disappear then let it drain before putting it back onto the table for display.

Vegies to Survive Summer
Keeping vegies looking good and producing through summer is possible with correct plant selection and watering.

  • To save water, it’s essential to use a wetting agent, even though the soil may be very rich and fertile. Western Australian soils become water repellent in the hot weather very quickly and a wetting agent is needed to ensure the water gets down to the plant’s roots.
  • Shade seedlings by breaking off a small tree branch and place it next to newly planted seedlings until they become established.
  • The use of an anti-transparent is crucial for plants such as tomatoes, capsicum and eggplant. It works similar to a sunscreen and is applied with a ready-to-use spray bottle about every three weeks, depending upon the weather.



Written by Sue McDougall, a qualified horticulturalist and experienced garden centre owner who grew up in the WA wheatbelt and has had experience in gardening throughout the entire state.  You may know Sue as the garden expert on 6PR radio and by her many TV appearances.



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