Surviving the heat wave

heat waveThis heat wave we’ve been experiencing in the Inland Northwest lately is really starting to get old!

You might recall that in a recent video on the importance of mulching, I mentioned that I thought we were going to have a hot, dry summer. Believe me, I didn’t want to be right about this and I’m certainly not gloating about my prediction — nobody wants to have to deal with this sort of hot weather, right?

I had some thoughts on ways to help your plants — and yourself! — survive the heat and wanted to share them with you:

  • BE SAFE. The most important aspect of your garden is YOU. Be sure to use sunscreen, drink plenty of water, wear a broad-brimmed sun hat, and work in the garden during the cooler hours of early morning or evening if you can. If you start feeling dizzy or have a pounding headache, get yourself indoors ASAP.
  • CRITTERS. Be aware that the critters around your garden are going to be more stressed than usual, due to the lack of water and plants to forage on. This means they will be bolder about coming into your yards and munching on your landscape. Very annoying! You might need to take steps to protect your plants, whether it’s with deer fencing, barriers or repellents. If it’s the latter, be sure to read the labels for information on how to apply it, and if you’re trying to protect edible crops, make sure the label says it’s safe to use the product on them. Very important!
  • MULCH. I have been mulching my veggie plants like crazy and cannot emphasize enough how important this is, whether you’re dealing with a heat wave or not. I’m primarily using grass clippings because we don’t treat our lawn with chemicals, but you can also use pine needles, straw, shredded leaves or bark. The only caveat about using bark, however, is that if you mix it (or wood chips) into the soil at the end of the season, it has a tendency to tie up the nitrogen in the soil, which is not a good thing. So if you use either of those materials, I’d remove them and use them for mulching around something like shrubs or perennials. When mulching your veggies, keep it thick (3-4″ is ideal).
  • WATERING TIMES. Try to water during the early morning hours, when the least evaporation will take place. Watering at night isn’t a good idea because staying wet for hours at a time isn’t good for a lot of plants and can actually spread disease. Watering in the middle of the day will burn plant leaves and shock the plants. If you do have to water something down and the hose has been lying in the sun for a while, let it run until the hot water escapes and cool water starts coming out of it — that first water can be really hot and burn plants (and yourself).
  • WATERING METHODS. If you can, water your veggies (and other plants, if possible) close to the ground rather than overhead. This means using soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems to put the water right where the roots can get at it. This way, you’re not wasting water by watering pathways or losing water through evaporation, and you’re not watering leaves, which don’t need the water as much as the roots do.
  • MONITOR MOISTURE LEVELS. With this extreme heat, it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally poke your finger into the soil to see if there’s some moisture in it. That way, you can adjust your watering as needed. Look for signs of stress such as wilting leaves, stunted growth or developing fruits dropping off the plants.
  • CONSIDER SHADE CLOTH. If you’re growing lettuce or other greens — which tend to prefer cooler temperatures — consider lightly covering the bed with some lightweight shade cloth. You’ll want to place it onto hoops or some type of support structure to carry the weight of the cloth.
  • NO PRUNING, PLANTING, DIVIDING. As much as you might want to, this is NOT a good time to prune, transplant or divide plants! They are under too much stress from the heat as it is. Doing one of these activities will likely kill the plant.

I hope this information is helpful to you. Stay cool, and hopefully we gardeners and our plants will make it through the heat wave just fine!