Brace yourselves: The heat will be on and turned up this month. Expect consistent 90-plus temperatures for a good while.
My garden maintenance plans call for less time in the heat and more quality time in the garden getting done what needs to get done. Are you with me?
This time of year you should complete most of your outdoor chores early in the day. (This includes walking your dog as early as possible. Our dog, Ferris, doesn’t like the heat. He’s Irish by heritage and would be happy with 365 days of cooler temperatures.)
I hand-water containers and newly seeded areas twice a day (at least). We’re on our third sowing of basil. Several batches have already been harvested, processed with olive oil, labeled and frozen. Tomato sauces this winter will have the added benefit of almost fresh, homegrown basil. (Thinking of a cold winter right now doesn’t sound so bad.)
Tips on watering
If you are too busy to water in the morning, try doing it in the cool of evening. (There won’t be much cool, so just pretend.)
Container plantings can dry out quickly in high heat, even large containers. If watering is running off the top of the soil and not soaking in, try poking some holes in the soil with a large bolt or nail to create better drainage and aeration. The holes will not hurt the roots at all; more will grow in.
When watered thoroughly (until water comes out of the bottom) containers will be nice and hydrated through the night and the steamy temperatures of the next day.
If your containers are located on hot surfaces or near walls, make time before you’re off to work in the morning to give them a quick, thorough shower of water. Yes, overhead watering, which is the opposite of the normal recommendation to water at the base of plants. Overhead watering is a great way to prevent or fight off spider mites, which love many plants growing in hot conditions. A good dose of water easily splashes spider mites off the foliage and in these oven-like temperatures, your plants will be dry before you arrive at work. Do this every morning if you can.
Consider moving your sunniest hanging baskets to a location with half-day sun until temperatures cool down a bit.
Don’t freak out when you see plants wilt mid-day; that’s their response to the heat and is most common on large-leafed vegetables. If they are still nodding later in the day, they probably need watering. Check the soil 2 to 4 inches down. Or use a screwdriver near the plant. If it goes down fairly easily, then the rooting zone is probably moist; if you’re pushing it down, then it’s too dry!
If in doubt, purchase a $12 indoor plant meter and poke it down into the soil. Water deeply, about every 3-4 days, depending on how fast your soil drains.
Tend to your lawn
Mow lawns in the evening when the lawn is dry. Set your sprinkler clock to water during the night or early morning. Most municipalities have three-day-a-week watering regulations in place.
I use the soak-and-cycle method two times a week through most of the summer. That means the lawn zones run through twice. I added an extra day last week with the hot temperatures. The system goes on at 4 a.m., 20 minutes for each zone.
Also, the grass is kept on the high side for three reasons: Taller grass keeps turf roots cooler; weeds aren’t happy (they like short); and the female Japanese beetles don’t like tall grass in which to lay their eggs.
If you’re seeing dry spots in the lawn, check your sprinkler heads. They may be broken or slightly askew. Also check to see that they aren’t spraying the sidewalk or street. I’m seeing a lot of that this summer; what a waste!
Other morning/evening chores
Renew mulch around plantings to keep soil roots cooler and weeds out (or easier to pull).
Shade new plantings and growing vegetables if you can. Shade cloth is a gardener’s friend for sun and hail protection. It’s sold in independent garden centers. Some sell it bulk in rolls. It is not that expensive and will last for years if stored away at the end of the season.
Tomatoes are especially adversely affected by temperatures of 92 or higher temperatures over several days. Fruiting stops or dries up, which means less fruit. Leaf roll is common, and watch out for blossom end rot on the first fruits.
Also, avoid planting or transplanting perennials during the heat of summer. If unavoidable, plant in the evening or on cloudy days and cut the foliage back by a third to help the roots establish. Water daily for several days. Rig a shade cloth using sheets, towels or row cover over a plant cage to reduce heat stress.
No need to remind you to keep hydrated (your pets too), even while you are indoors sitting in front of a fan.
Stay cool out there, fellow gardeners!
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