Officially, it is still springtime, yet it feels like summer has arrived in full force with these 90+ degree days. Your plants experience this rise in temperature just like we do.
So how can we help our plants handle this hot weather?
Water deeply, slowly and less frequently. Consider watering your tomatoes, vegetables and flowers – ok, your lawn, too - long enough for the water to seep deep into the dirt and not just run off the top. Water like this either two or three times per week. The benefit of watering deeply is plant roots grow longer, deeper and further away from the hot soil surface, reducing heat stress.
How do you know you have watered deeply enough? Put a small stable cup or can in the garden area you are sprinkling and do not stop watering until an inch of water has been collected. It is better for the plants to get a “big drink” and be watered less frequently than a “shallow sip” more frequently, especially as our temperatures rise.
This deep, slow watering plan will benefit veggies, (yes, tomatoes will love this watering program), flowers, shrubs, and lawns. The exception is container-grown plants and vegetables. Daily watering may still be required for plants in pots on these hot days.
Avoid wetting plant leaves when possible. When using a sprinkler, keeping water off of the leaves is impossible, so water early in the morning. This allows the foliage to dry quickly as the daytime temperatures rise, minimizing risk of plant disease, as so many of these plant diseases require moisture to thrive.
Do whatever you can to keep the water in the ground now that you have put it there! Add organic mulch, such as pine straw, finely ground bark, or chopped up leaves, in a 2 to 3 inch layer. Mulch acts like a shade cloth for the soil as the mulch holds in moisture, keeping the temperature of the soil cooler which also benefits the plant roots. Without mulch, the sun bakes the soil, causing the need for even more watering.
Learn to recognize stress in your plants. You may want to watch for an “indicator plant” - that is the first plant to wilt, indicating a need for water. Watch the big leaves in the vegetable garden - squash, cucumber or melon leaves. When losing lots of moisture these plants wilt fast, or in your flower garden it may be the hydrangea blossoms flopping or the foxglove foliage folding over that serve as your indicator it’s time to water.
Another way to help our plants handle the heat is to move container plants out of the direct sun into a shady area. Shade helps prevent the plants from drying out as rapidly and also cools the plants down. Do you know plants can sunburn just like we do? Yes indeed, so give them a break from the direct sun wherever you can.
Have you considered how fertilizing plants on a hot day may stress them out? Think about it like this – do you want to eat a big heavy meal sitting at a picnic table in the summer sun in the middle of the day? No? Neither do your plants. Do not feed your plants in the middle of a heat wave – except those tomatoes! Plan to feed them earlier in the day either prior to or as you water them.
This article is submitted by Susan Mead, Lincoln Parish Master Gardener.