Beat the Summer Heat!

Summer is finally here, and seems to be making up for lost time by jacking temperatures up higher than we’ve seen in a good long while. Our plants aren’t any more used to it than we are, and though my tomatoes are finally happy and producing some fruit, other members of the garden aren’t quite so thrilled with the sudden change in the weather.

Though it is a very, very good thing that the ground is drying out and roots can breathe again, heat will often stress plants and make them more susceptible to attacks from insects and diseases. The best way to help your gardens through the hottest parts of the day is to make sure they have plenty of water available to them. Water early in the morning, a deep, soaking application, and they will thank you. There may still be some wilting when the sun is at its apex, but well hydrated plants will recover quicker as the sun moves down in the sky. If watering must be done during the afternoon while the sun is still beating down on the foliage, avoid getting too much water on the leaves themselves and concentrate on soaking the soil. Planters and hanging baskets should be checked at least twice a day in the heat or wind, as they will dry out much quicker than plants in the ground. Fertilizer should not be given to stressed plants, as the extra nitrogen will encourage growth which will add more foliage for the already stressed root system to support, and many fertilizers contain salts, which will serve to dry out roots.

New plantings especially need to be watched closely when the weather is so hot, and may require mid-day syringe of nice cool water. New growth without an established root system to support it will wilt much quicker and recover more slowly than established plantings. Transplanting or digging plants should also wait till a cooler, cloudier day. One of the biggest stresses a gardener can put on a plant is transplanting, and stacking that stress on top of already hot plants could set back their recovery and result in a weaker plant. If transplanting simply must be done, it is critical to ensure the plant and the place it is being moved to have been well watered a day before. After transplanting, leave a hose running on a slow trickle for a while to saturate the ground around the new planting so the moisture level will be more even as the soil dries. This is a good thing to do anytime things need transplanting, no matter how hot it is.

Purchased plants in pots or burlap can still be planted, but special care must be taken to ensure they do not dry out before their new root system can get established. Just as in transplanting, the plant itself should be well wet before planting, as should the ground it is going in. If the pot is root-bound, gently loosen what roots you can, and gently score or loosen the remainder of the root ball. Water well after planting, and keep a close eye on it. Some wilting and flagging of foliage is normal, but the plant should not be allowed to dry out too much. Mulching your gardens will help regulate the soil temperature and retain moisture.

For us humans, it is best to get work done in the garden in either the early morning or late afternoon when it’s cooler. We wilt, just like the plants, in hot weather. Plan your route around your gardens to maximize work in the shade, and be sure to pace yourself. Maybe spreading those 3 yards of mulch can wait for a slightly cooler day. Be sure to stay hydrated, and don’t underestimate the value of damp washcloths on the back of the neck for extra cooling power! A little liquid can go a long way when applied properly.

Water is key to any successful garden, but moreso when it is so warm. Keeping our plants hydrated in the heat will not only serve to cool them, but also the air around your home, helping create a little oasis in the midst of all the heat.