Beating the Heat: Protect Your Plants From Heat Stress
Hot weather can be hard on your plants. Just like us they need special care in extreme heat. Even with adequate watering and mulching, plants can suffer when the temperatures rise but there are a few things you can do to help protect your plants from heat stress during the hottest part of the summer.
Watering is essential when it’s hot, but watering correctly is far more important. Watering in the morning or early evening is the best for your garden. Giving them water midday is inefficient and most of it will evaporate before it gets to the roots. Strive for a deep watering two or three times a week. Using a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose will ensure a deep watering, but if you do not have an irrigation system, an overhead sprinkler or hand watering will work, just do it in the cool hours of morning or early evening.
Too much water can cause damage to your plants as much as under watering can. Heat and sun exposure will cause leaf wilt, occurring because of transpiration, or when plant releases moisture to protect itself in excessive heat. The leaves are wilting so there is less surface area for the sun exposure. “But,” you say, “they look so thirsty!?” Resist the temptation to water and feel the soil for moisture. Over watering can lead to root rot or fungal diseases (when a plant is continuously over watered, it can deprive the roots of oxygen and promote the growth of fungi in the soil). Don’t worry, your plants will bounce back when the sun goes down.
A thick layer of mulch helps insulate the plant’s roots from both heat and cold. It will also help keep the soil moist. If your garden is prone to extreme temperatures, strive for at least 4-6 inches of mulch in your garden. Straw, pine needles, leaves and grass clippings make good, inexpensive mulch. Lay it on thick; your plants will love you for it.
Give Them Shade
During extreme heat, plants will cease flowering and can get sunburned. When temperatures get into the mid 90’s Fahrenheit, plants like peppers, tomatoes and eggplants hold back flowering. A good way to remedy this is to give them some shade during the hottest part of the day. You can use a patio umbrella for a small area or a lightweight piece of fabric (like a flat bedsheet) stretched over a trellis to shade sections of your garden.
Heat Tolerant Plants
Some plants do better when the temperature rises such as plants that have origins in areas that are hot most of the year. Many plants in the vegetable garden love heat, like eggplant, peppers, basil and tomatoes. The sunniest part of the garden is often the best for the veggie bed. But if you are designing an ornamental garden bed that gets a plenty of full sun consider planting some heat-tolerant plants. Look for varieties of shrubs and trees that suit the landscape the add in decorative perennials and flowers that can stand up to the heat.
Some good choices for heat-loving, flowering plants include:
- dusty miller
- sweet potato vine
These heat tolerant plants thrive in full sun and can even tolerate drought. It’s important to also note that as much as they love the heat, they can be sensitive to the cold. When the cool weather arrives, they will need protection in order to keep them healthy year after year.
Take Care of Yourself
Most importantly, make sure you are taking the right safety precautions when out gardening in the heat. Skip the hottest part of the day when doing garden chores and instead head out to the garden in the morning and evening. Work in shorter increments and take regular breaks. Gardening in the summer is a much slower pace, listen to your body if you need to step out in the heat. Apply sunscreen, sun protection lip balm, and wear a hat. Like your plants, be sure to stay hydrated. Sweating will help cool your body down, but you need to keep your body replenished. Water is best for hydration, but you can also quench your thirst with a cool glass of sun tea or lavender lemonade!
Taking a few precautions this summer will help you and your garden stay healthy and cool during the most extreme heat. Cooler days will be here before you know it, so enjoy the warm weather while it lasts.