Gardening in a Heat Wave

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Gardening in a Heat Wave

Your Guide to Protecting Plants from Heat and Sun

Each year it seems broad areas of the country are experiencing heat waves and even drought. We all know that at some point in the summer, there will be a few days with temperatures in the 90s or above.

However, many areas are dealing with extended periods of extreme temperatures along with lack of rain. Unfortunately, the predictions are that this is the result of the changing climate and will not end soon. But there are ways to help the environment and your garden at the same time.

We gardeners just need to take steps to protect our plants from the severe weather and conserve water as much as possible. To start, we can look at adjusting our garden irrigation methods to a system that not only provides needed water to our plants, but does it in the most efficient ways.

To start, take a walk through your yard and garden. Being mindful of the changing climate, what improvements can you make that will protect everything from your newly planted organic seeds to your perennials, trees and shrubs while making the best use of the water?


Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Maintain Healthy Grass with a Longer Lawn

We all love a nice lawn. It’s where we host family get-togethers, our pets lie in the sun and we like to sit and relax at the end of a busy day. Plus, it looks beautiful and sets off the plants and gardens surrounding it. With that being said, lawns are high-maintenance areas of our yard that need extra consideration.

Depending on the type of grass you grow, it may be able to recover from water deprivation, but some lawns will turn brown and die. The only way to water a lawn is with overhead watering, which is the least efficient and a high percentage of the water is lost to evaporation.

To retain the moisture in your lawn, allow the grass to grow longer. A minimum length of three inches is recommended and increasingly that length is even higher. Some are allowing the grass to reach a six-inch length. The advantage of the longer lawn is the grass will shade itself and the soil it grows in. This helps to retain the moisture you do have, helps prevent evaporation and helps keep the temperature of the soil lower.

Another thing you can do to maintain your grass in the high heat is to refrain from fertilizing the lawn during high heat or drought. It will stimulate the grass to grow and that will require even more water. If you do water, time it to early morning hours. That will minimize the evaporation and protect your lawn from burnout.

2. Collect Water to Keep Plants Hydrated

The roof of your home and other outbuildings provide an opportunity for water collection. Instead of a gutter system that dumps the rainwater into the sewer system, collect the water for use when watering your plants. This method of garden irrigation is becoming more popular, which means there are more collection systems being developed.

Start with just a rain barrel and use the water you collect to water all your container plants. Most of these barrels have spigots near the bottom for easy use. There are more sophisticated systems that include multiple barrels and a pump to push the water through your hoses.

A step up from the barrel system is a cistern. A hundred years ago every northern home had a cistern in the basement where water from the roof was collected and stored. The cistern was a small room that had walls of cement and held the water for use in the home.

Today, cisterns are making a revival, especially in the more arid areas of the country. Rather than having a cistern in the basement, they can be buried underground in the yard. The advantage of the cistern is its size. There are cisterns that have a much greater capacity than the barrel system. Some people also like the ability to hide the system underground.

3. Prevent Run-Off and Keep Water Where it Belongs

The goal is to keep as much of the water that falls as rain in your yard. The key is to prevent water run-off as much as possible. Any sidewalks and driveways are the main culprits. They are usually designed to move water away from your home, often into the sewer system.

To keep the water in your yard, consider replacing solid sidewalks and driveways with divided pavement or pavers. Replace the solid sidewalk with pavers that have intentional spaces between them to allow the rainwater to enter the soil under and around the pavers.

An eco-friendly driveway can be designed the same way, with intentional space between the slabs of cement. You could also tilt the driveway toward your lawn, so the run-off is into the yard instead of the street. Instead of a solid cement or asphalt driveway, consider a decorative gravel that the rain can penetrate.

4. Avoid Overhead Watering to Prevent Scalding

When at all possible, avoid overhead watering. A high percentage of the water spray will evaporate in the heat before it even reaches the soil. If beads of water remain on the leaves, it will act like a magnifier and can cause scalding of the plant. Instead, invest in soaker hoses and drip hoses for your garden irrigation.

Fruit trees can be a fun addition to your home, whether you are adding them to your garden outside or growing them in containers. Having a gorgeous citrus tree full of fruit on your patio or a cute blueberry bush in your garden full of colorful berries is really rewarding. However, many people forget to consider amount of time it takes for a young plant to produce fruit.

Your fruit tree’s main responsibility the first year or two is to grow new roots and extend its existing roots to the surrounding soil, mainly to anchor it in place so it can withstand high winds and things bumping into it. And fruit tree branches get very heavy with fruit once they’re in full production. If you need to stake your tree, do it for a short period of time, not more than one growing season.

Proper Fertilizer Applications</h3> <p>In order of importance, these are the nutrients required by fruit trees in the highest quantity; potassium (K), nitrogen (N,) calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and phosphorus (P). Other essential nutrients (micro-nutrients) are usually available in adequate quantities when the soil pH is in the optimal range. There is no benefit to applying more fertilizer than plants require. In fact, over application of nutrients may be harmful to plant growth and the environment.

Prune in early winter after the tree has gone dormant to encourage more fruit production next season.

A soaker hose is made of water-permeable material that will slowly seep out of the hose and provide moisture to the plants adjacent to the hose. The drip hose has outlets for the water along its length, allowing the water to be directed to the specific plants along its length. Both keep water off the actual plant, but rather send it to the roots. This is a much more efficient way to water and uses significantly less water because there is less evaporation. Water in the early morning before the sun is at its most powerful. In a bad heat wave, you may need to water in the evening as well.

5. Layer on the Mulch to Prevent Evaporation

Mulch is your greatest help in a heat wave. A good layer of mulch should be at least three inches thick. Remove any weeds that will compete with your plants for the water and add lots of organic matter and compost. This material is absorbent and will hold the moisture until the plants need it. Cover the soil with mulch. This can be dried grass or shredded or chipped wood mulch.

Mulch will suppress any weed growth, prevent evaporation of water from the soil and shade the soil keeping the temperature several degrees cooler. Cover any exposed soil with mulch. If you mulch over your soaker hoses, you will increase the efficiency of these hoses and keep the moisture available for your plants.

6. Use Shade Cloth to Protect Plants from Intense Sunlight

Many gardeners have never needed to use shade cloth before, so it is a new garden tool for them. Shade cloth is usually stretched over the plants you want to protect from intense sunlight, but can be positioned to one side. The rest of the plant is left open to allow air circulation. Make sure the structure you hang the shade cloth from is strong enough to stand up to wind and rain without collapsing and potentially damaging the plants it is supposed to protect.

Shade cloth comes in different sizes and shade factors. The shade factor is a measurement of how much sunlight is blocked. Shade cloth can have a shade factor of anywhere from 25 to 90 percent. Lettuce, which is more sensitive to sun’s light and heat, may need shade cloth in the 50 percent range. Zucchini, which is more sun-tolerant, may only need shade cloth with a 25 percent shade factor. You may already have row covers for insect barriers or to protect your plants from frost damage. These can be used as shade cloth; however, they are not graded for their shade factor. You won’t know if you are blocking too much sun or too little sun until you see the results.

7. Treat New Transplants with Care

If you are starting new plants from seed, you will need to take special care. It may be advisable to start your organic seeds indoors. Sun protection will be especially important for tender seedlings. When it is time to harden off your seedlings, start by putting them outdoors in the evening when the temperatures are the lowest. Gradually expose them to the heat while protecting them from direct sunlight. When they are ready to be moved into the garden, plant them in the shade of taller plants that are close to harvest or use shade cloth. Place a soaker hose next to the seedlings and apply a good amount of mulch. Check on them several times a day when first transplanted until they are established in the garden.

8. Maintain Hydration with Other Watering Methods

An Olla is a narrow-necked clay pot that is buried in the garden with only the neck exposed. The pot is filled with water through the neck and then a cover is placed on the opening to prevent evaporation of the water. The water will gradually seep through the porous clay and moisten the surrounding soil. The water is right where it will be utilized, at the root level. The surface of the soil will be dry, but if you go down an inch or two, you will find moist soil. Simply refill the Olla as needed.

Although ollas are becoming a very popular method of watering in the garden, they are actually an ancient crop and garden irrigation method. They are commonly used in the southwest and drought regions, but are very adaptable to all gardens.

Ollas are available for purchase in different sizes. Use the smaller versions for your container gardens. The types of plants you want to water and the number of plants will help determine the size of the Olla you need.

Another method of garden irrigation is the tree diaper. This is a circular sponge type pad that is filled with water and placed around the base of a tree or shrub. The water is gradually released from the pad directly into the soil at the base of the tree. This is especially helpful if you have planted young trees that aren’t totally established in their new location.

A DIY method of watering single plants like tomatoes or peppers is with milk cartons. There are two ways to do this. Method one is to punch several holes in the bottom of the milk carton. Add a layer of clean stones through the spout into the bottom of the carton. This provides weight to hold the carton in place when empty.

Fill it with water and position it next to the plant that needs the additional water. The water will gradually drain through the holes in the bottom of the carton and into the soil where the plant can use it. Experiment with the number of holes and the size of the holes so that the water will seep out gradually.

The second method also requires a milk carton. With this method, the bottom of the carton is cut off. Dig a small hole next to the plant and partially bury the inverted carton. It should be deep enough to keep the carton upright and not blow away when empty. You could also attach the carton to the tomato cage or stake for added stability.

Fill the carton with water, and it will gradually enter the soil through the spout. The advantage of this method is that as the plant grows, it is still easy to refill the carton through the foliage because of the large opening that you can pour the water through.

Weather the Heat Wave and Maintain a Gorgeous Garden

As climate change and extended hot weather and even drought conditions expand, we gardeners will need to utilize every technique possible to protect our gardens. With more and more technology coming available to do that, we’ll be able to weather any heat wave.