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Soils ain’t Soils

Soils ain’t Soils by Mick O’Brien. Dip. Hort (MAIH). The Happy Horticulturist RH-101

Sometimes it’s a challenge to keep ourselves hydrated and motivated to work in the garden in these hot dry summer months. Just this week I was planting plants in temps around the low thirties and the plants I was planting needed extreme care indeed. At one stage as I was caring for my plants, I realised that I was sweating so much, that I could have given them salt burn from my excessive perspiration or worse, perhaps alcohol poisoning, as I was working immediately after the Australia Day long weekend- of course! Poor little blighters.

Preparing the planting holes by adding water to the plants and the holes before planting is paramount, but there are so many implications that may impede this simple little process. The hose is on standby, and at my side ready and primed, but I need to run the boiling water from the hose as it has been sitting exposed to the full hot sun and decant this into a bucket until cool water flows- before adding it to the root zone. This can be laborious and repetitive due to the fact that every 5 minutes the hose is hot again and one has to be alert, as to let the boiling water out of the hose each and every time. Also, the plants sitting in full sun waiting to be planted need to be hydrated- before placement, to cool their roots and to alleviate any extra stress that could set them back. The soil excavated from the hole also heats up and this can injure the delicate plant roots when backfilling if not dampened also.

Once the soil is moist and the plants hydrated, I then add a mulch layer that will allow moisture to percolate through unimpeded, this also assists to protect the plants root system from drying out and promote their growth. Often on these hot days there is also drying winds which can dry the new growing tips of some tender plants if the plants are not sufficiently hydrated and if these precautionary planting procedures are not adhered to, the result could be a plant that has dropped all its leaves in protest or perhaps dies. There are products available called anti-transpirants; that can be sprayed on to the foliage before planting that will minimise excessive moisture loss from the stomata openings on the leaves. These work by temporarily blocking the stomata so the plants remain turgid and hydrated and is useful when planting out in hot windy days and stops unnecessary transpiration.

I personally do not apply fertiliser around the top of the plants root system area upon planting in these hot dry conditions as these can rapidly breakdown once the soil temperatures reach 25 degrees Celsius and leach excessive salts around the plants root system which tend to force unnatural growth at the expense of the developing root system. Also, when using tonics like seaweed, these work best after the plants hydrated first, and then applied secondly, to reap the maximum benefits from the seaweed’s natural growth regulators and stimulants. I also mentioned how soil wetters can be beneficial for hydrophobic soils in my adjacent article titled “lawns green with envy”, but there are other types of wetting agents available on the market (humectants); which actually attracts the available soil moisture from the air around the pore spaces, then creates microscopic droplets that plant roots can use during these drought times. These are proving popular in times like these, but when it comes down do dealing with sandy soils its best to build up the organic layer first. Well, all this talk on hydration is making me thirsty indeed. Stay cool!

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