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Science tips for summer

21 December 2018
Advice for summer from our scientists
Whether you're looking to liven up your garden or need some tips on picking the perfect avocado, our researchers and students share their scientific tips for the summer.

Growing plants during summer

Looking to get your thumb green this summer? We asked Associate Professor Tina Bell from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Graham Brown from our Plant Breeding Institute for some tips on the best plants to grow this season.

Bell: Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), Frangipani (Plumeria sp.), Gardenia (Gardenia sp.) and Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea glabra) are flowering and at their most spectacular during summer.

Brown: Mandevilla are vibrant choice for summer adding a subtropical look to your garden or balcony. They are also very tough and drought tolerant making them the perfect plant for our hot climate. Look for the “Aloha” series bred by NuFlora at the University’s Plant Breeding Institute.

Bell: A good idea for summer is to stay in the shade so adding some plants to your favourite shady area might be a sun-smart alternative. Shade-loving plants that grow in the warmer months include Rose Myrtle (Archirhodomyrtus beckleri), a native rainforest shrub, and Native Violet (Viola hederacea), a low groundcover. Two of the more traditional plants that can tolerate shade and somewhat drier conditions (but don’t forget to water them) include Begonia (Begonia sp.) and Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum sp.).

Brown: Succulents are very popular with time poor consumers. Portulaca is a flowering succulent that thrives in the heat and humidity of a Sydney summer and come in a wide range of vibrant colours. Bred by NuFlora “Porto Grande” has extra-large flowers and do not need as much water as many other colourful annuals.

Brown: Blue is a great cooling colour during the heat explains Brown. Scaevola, commonly called fan flower, are a fantastic native plant that flowers profusely all summer.

Bell: It’s a good idea to put in some plants that will provide cooling in the future. Plant a cultivar of a Red Flowering Gum (Corymbia ficifoila), a Tulipwood (Harpullia pendula) or a Native Daphne (Philotheca myoporoides) today and enjoy the benefits of a shady tree in the not too distant future.

Keeping your dog sun safe

While most of us know that dogs shouldn’t be left in cars, and that they can quickly overheat during summer which can be dangerous to their health. But did you know that just like us, dogs are susceptible to sunburn and are at risk of burnt paws?

To help keep your furry friend safe this summer we asked Dr Beth McDonald, our Veterinary Dermatology expert, to share her top for keeping your dog sun safe.

We can easily avoid sunburn and burnt paws by keeping dogs out of the heat in summer. Go for a walk early in the morning or later in the afternoon and avoid the hottest part of the day - 10am to 5pm.

Use sunscreen on your dog to help protect them - SPF 30+ and you can buy doggie sun suits.

Keep your dog off the hot pavements, roads and sand when enjoying quality time with them.

A lesson in exercising self-control

The festive season is in full swing which means chocolates, cheese boards and bubbly are too. If you’re having trouble saying no to unnecessary treats at your next holiday function, take some inspiration from an unlikely source… ants.

Dr Eliza Middleton from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences talked to us about a study that found black garden ants have the ability to exercise self-control.

“In this study, ants were presented with a great reward far from the nest, or an average reward close to the nest,” explains Middleton.

“It was found that the ants were willing to invest the time and effort into choosing the great reward even though it was further away. This shows their ability to exercise self-control, as they didn’t choose the reward that was closer.”

“This is one of the things I really love about invertebrates, finding that they possess traits that we typically consider ‘human’.”

So, next time you’re faced with the choice of a second piece of cake, remember that if an ant can say no, you can too.

Picking the perfect avocado

Salads, guacamole and even ice-cream, avocados have a range of uses in your cooking line-up this summer. But what should you look for when you’re picking the perfect produce? Bachelor of Food and Agribusiness student Monique Hard shares some tips she picked up during her internship with Fresh Produce Group.

“I had the opportunity to intern with the technical team at Fresh Produce Group, which included working on an avocado ripening and ethylene management research project,” says Monique.

“They were installing new ripening rooms in their warehouse, so we were preparing recommendations that would promote avocado quality and increase ripening activity, while minimising the risk of ethylene impacting the shelf-life of other produce stored there.”

“Sharing my recommendations with the team and seeing them implemented was very rewarding.”

To help you pick the right avocado, Monique shared three tips she picked up during her internship.

Avocado skin colour and texture differs among varieties so instead of depending on your eyes have a gentle feel with your hands.

A ready to eat avocado should easily yield to gentle pressure.

Softer avocados should not be neglected as they're great in smoothies, brownies and soup!