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Extreme summer heat in our gardens

Extraordinary record-breaking hot days recently have been interspersed with milder ones. This has allowed heat damaged plants a brief recovery period. At the time of writing, however, rain showers have been short or light and occasional, enough to help suffering shallow-rooted plants but our gardens are in need of a good soaking to help them survive any further temperature onslaughts.

Some established plants have thrived in the heat: jacarandas, crepe myrtles, tibouchina, oleanders, nandina, banksias, callistemon, pelagonium, pepper trees, and many of the succulent plants like kalanchoe and sedum. Some of these grow well in gardens farther north than Sydney and some hybrids like the tibouchina (previously known as Lasiandra) have been hybridized in nurseries like Alstonville near Lismore. In a shaded sheltered area in my garden half a dozen potted ferns and some begonia species have behaved magnificently as though they are being nurtured in a hot house.

Conspicuous sufferers were tree ferns exposed to the hot sun, hydrangea blooms gave up the ghost and so did flowers on agapanthus. In some local gardens recently planted shrubs, like some young camellias that hadn’t had time to establish extensive root systems, suffered badly. Much new growth on deciduous trees has been burnt off, older palm fronds and even outer leaves of old established magnolias and camellias are burnt. A friend reports that the top of her Poinsettia exposed to afternoon sun was burnt and an old aspidistra also suffered badly.

Sad stories about newly planted shrubs remind me that many years ago, when I had to establish a new garden in the sandstone soil of a recently cleared block on the upper north shore, I learnt not only to use generous mulches of whatever material was available but also to plant a small rock (or stones if the rocks were all used up) at the foot of each newly planted shrub. The rock acts as a shelter for the roots and it also attracts moisture. After a couple of years when the plant was sufficiently established I could reuse the rock elsewhere. We are more fortunate in Artarmon with our clay soil which retains moisture and humus better but the rock/stone is a strategy that might prove useful if we have more summers like this one.

Several days after the heat of that terrible Friday I went for a walk in the Reserve to see how the bush has fared. The ground was thick with fallen bark and leaf litter, much more than I’ve ever seen before. The Angophoras, our Sydney Red Gums, having shed their grey coats looked magnificent. It reminded me how, after such a wet winter, several eucalypts in my garden and a Michelia champaca, have dropped more bark and leaf than I can remember in any previous year. In the Reserve much of the bracken in exposed areas was badly burnt and some old or damaged trees are dying but down by the creek the tree ferns, in spite of having many dead lower fronds, are surviving. The Tradescantia ground cover has never looked more luxurious and an area of Convolvulus hasn’t suffered in the heat at all. However, several big piles of weed covered by sheets of black plastic show that the Bushcare volunteers are onto the Morning Glory and its days are numbered.

by Mollie Shelley

Courtesy of Gazette February 2013
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