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Gardening Articles for week ending 25th November 2017

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Written by Wally Richards.


There is no doubt that in most areas of New Zealand we had a wet winter and also a wetter than usual spring.
Here in Palmerston North we were getting a period of rain about every second day or night which means the gardens and container plants should be fairly moist and the need to water would be confined to inside my glasshouses.
I was very surprised about a week ago when I decided to root prune one of my container grown feijoa trees. It was the first time that I had taken any notice of their condition and was surprised to find new foliage withered and dry and a great amount of leaf drop.
Once I got the tree out of its container I found the growing medium and root zone was very dry which is amazing considering it had only being raining the day before.
A check of other containers and raised gardens showed also signs of very dry growing mediums and dehydrated plants.
Now this is most strange and totally unusual to have had months of wet weather and for it to dry out so quickly.
I then realised that my dogs were drinking more water than normal having to fill their drinking bowls more frequently. Clothes were drying very quickly after washing and my dehumidifier instead of it running all the time till full, it hardly goes at all because its showing the humidity is down to about 50%.
During the week on Wednesday I googled 'Humidity Palmerston North' and got an answer of 51%.
Next day I Googled again and then got 46% (No need to take your sinuses to Arizona at that level)
When you look up the humidity averages for Palmerston North I see Mean relative humidity (at 9am) in Palmerston North; Mean monthly value for 19812010 November, 78 % Provider: NIWA
Yet 46% and 51% and on Friday 55% are a .long way from 78% average November.
It is like a great dehumidifier in the sky is sucking out all the moisture.
Maybe you could do a bit of research daily for a while in your area. Just google you place/city and the word Humidity to find what it is currently. I checked on Saturday and only Invercargill and far north such as Keri Keri had high humidity.
In the last few months we have had lots of cloudy days and only a few periods of direct sunlight which means its not the sun drying out the air and ground. Wind also not a lot; and its usually a cool wind to cold wind not a hot drying wind so cant say the wind is causing the dryness.
Traveling around I see the grass on verges, lawns and playing fields showing brown areas where the grass is already browning off as if it was January to February drought period.
In Palmerston North Water Restrictions has already kicked in.
From conversations with gardeners from other areas of NZ it would appear that the problem is very wide spread and the country is having some strange weather/drought happenings.
I am now watering my containers and raised gardens daily to keep some moisture into the growing media.
Plants including weeds can sense when a dry spell is coming and to save their species survival they will go to seed prematurely. Normally with weeds you see this about January; they may only get a few centimeters tall and they have gone to flower and seed.
If your recently planted vegetables have gone to seed then this is the likely reason.
When growing medium gets too dry; whether it is soil or compost etc then a surface tension happens which prevents water from penetrating down.
Instead water sheds off to where it can penetrate or it simply evaporates back into the atmosphere.
In lawns you can have dry spot which means an area of grass goes brown then around the perimeter the grass is lush and green because they are getting all the water.
The same can happen with container plants when you water the water tends to go to the sides of the pot and then run out the bottom without giving the plant/mix much of a drink.
To overcome this problem you simply fill a watering can with warm water and squirt into it dish washing liquid and then lather up. Water this over the dry areas or containers to break surface tension.
Next time you water or it rains then the water will sink in where it is needed.
Another thing to remember is this; A shrub or tree growing naturally in the soil will have what we call a drip line which is the area around the perimeter of the foliage's, outward limit.
In rain, the plant's leaves act as an umbrella to run the rain off into the drip line.
It is in this area that the feeder roots of many plants are situated for this very purpose, getting a drink.
So when you water by hand, plants in the ground you need to apply the water to the drip line area where its going to do most good.
If the same plant is in a container and its leaves are directing rain to the outside of the container then after rain the growing medium will still not be wet and you may need to direct water into the container with the hose.
Surface watering causes another problem which once again is best explained with grass.
If a lawn is given a light watering every couple of days then most of this water will only be in the top couple of centimeters of soil. The feeder roots of the grasses will tend to grow into this top area of soil because that is where the water is.
Unfortunately it is the top area of soil that dries out quickest and if a regular amount of water is not applied then the soil dries, the feeder roots wither and the grass browns off.
This is why we recommend deep watering to get the water down deep \so the roots will be deeper and able to survive drying times better.
Drought like conditions currently means farmers and agriculturalists are irrigating extensively taking out ground water and river/stream water onto their land.
Problem being is that their land does not hold the water and most of it is sucked up into the atmosphere to end up as clouds then rain some where else.
They have to pour tons of water onto their land just to keep grass or plants going a bit longer while wasting most of the water used.
This means more water in the atmosphere as clouds which means more clouds and less direct sunlight onto the grass and plants. We then have less growth and as farmers are saying there is not much goodness in the grass. Reason is; lack of sunshine to create the carbohydrates through photosynthesis.
Stock do not get the goodness from the grass they need to produce milk so they have to be fed supplements.
Have we got a spiral effect working here?
If the weather conditions keep on as they are we are into an early drought so look to do some deep soaking while you dont have full water restrictions yet and then a good layer of mulch over the soil to retain moisture.
If you are preparing new ground for planting incorporate Wallys Earth Builder into the soil to help retain moisture.
If planting up containers use compost only and after covering bottom of the pot with compost spread either a few thickness of newspaper over it (or cardboard) then the next lot of compost with Earth Builder mixed in.
Same with hanging baskets and every week plunge them into a tub of water so they bubble all the air out and can accept water again.
Apply Wallys Fruit and Flower Power around your gardens to harden up plants to become more drought resistant..
You can also spray plants with Vaporgard under and over the foliage this will reduce moisture losses by about 40% and also allow the plants to gain more energy from what sunlight they receive.