Get Used to It
According to statistics compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency, heat waves are becoming more common. They’re especially intense in major cities and last much longer than they once did. These periods of extreme, suffocating heat have severe consequences for both people and the environment—including your garden. After all, it's not surprising that when you're sweaty and uncomfortable, your garden suffers too. Here's how to help your garden survive a stretch of ultra-hot weather.
Mulch Your Beds
Adding mulch to your garden is one of the best things you can do to protect plants from hot summer weather. A layer of mulch conserves moisture and keeps the area around the base of your plants cool. You don’t need to get fancy with it: Shredded leaves, straw, and wood chips are all excellent options. When applying mulch around the base of a tree or in a garden bed, be sure to spread it out instead of piling it on, as a too-thick layer of organic matter can suffocate plant roots. As well, keep mulch a few inches away from the bases of trees; a mounded "volcano" of mulch at the base can lead to rot and disease.
It can be challenging to grow cool-season greens in the summer without the help of some temporary shade, but even heat-loving plants can do with a little sun protection in extremely hot weather. Shade cloth, which can be laid over a greenhouse or installed over outdoor plantings, is easy to set up and remove, and it’s relatively inexpensive.
When it’s unusually hot, your plants will be extra thirsty, so don’t skip watering during a heat wave! Because extreme temperatures can impair plants' ability to take up water via their roots, it's also important to give them a helping hand by watering deeply. Water at the base of each plant, using a hose or watering can, and strive to avoid overspray on leaves. When the mercury rises, keep an extra close eye on your container plants. Potted plants are the first to suffer in a heat wave and will need more water than in-ground greenery.
Watering early in the day, before the sun reaches its zenith, ensures that more droplets make it to the plants' roots before evaporating. Water by hand or with a spray-nozzle hose to ensure that the water goes where it's needed. Running the sprinkler may not be the most water-efficient approach during a heat wave, and in municipalities with water shortages, it might even net you a hefty fine.
Mature plants can handle some stress, but newly planted seedlings and transplants won’t survive drought conditions for long. Baby plants need coddling to get through a rough patch. If you have a huge garden, you may not have time to care for all that plant life during a heat wave, so focus your attention on young, vulnerable plants that are more likely to perish in the heat.
Consider irrigating your garden with a soaker hose, a garden hose permeated with tiny pores that let water seep into the soil. The hose can be lightly buried, which almost guarantees that the water it releases will make it to your plants' roots. Water delivered in this way is much less prone to evaporation than water sprayed by a traditional sprinkler. If you invest in a digital timer for your irrigation setup, you'll be able to enjoy hands-off watering. It’s the best insurance policy for summer heat waves.
Avoid Stressing Your Plants
Garden tasks like pruning, fertilizing, and transplanting cause stress for plants. Under normal circumstances, plants can recover quickly, but during a heat wave these chores add unnecessary stress that can put plant health at risk. During a heat wave, avoid pruning, fertilizing, or transplanting. Wait until the stretch of hot weather has passed to tackle heavy-duty garden tasks.
The benefit of container gardening is that you can move your plants around at will. Is your pot of cucumbers looking droopy in the sun? Place it in a shadier area until the heat wave is over. You can even bring containers of cool-season vegetables indoors during late-season bouts of hot weather.
Use Other Plants as Protection
When planting your garden, plan for potential heat waves. For instance, transplant delicate seedlings under tall plants or sow seeds below lush vegetation to protect them from the sun. Tender plants can burn and wilt in direct sunlight, so placing them in the shade of mature foliage gives them a fighting chance. If a heat wave does hit your region, you'll be glad you took the time to plan ahead.
Check Water Regulations
Before you plan your watering schedule and grab your garden hose, check your city’s regulations about watering during the summer. In an effort to prevent water waste and ensure that water supplies don't become overtaxed, some towns have instituted rules about watering during a heat wave. Those who don’t stick to the rules may end up with unwelcome fines.
Whether you're a lawn care novice or a master gardener, everyone can use a little help around the yard. Subscribe to The Dirt newsletter for tips, recommendations, and problem-solving tools that can help you tame your great outdoors.