Summer is here, and the region is as hot as the surface of the sun. With daily temperature in the 80s, 90s, or higher, your plants needs some extra care to survive. Follow these basic tips to help your plants beat the heat.
Keep Plants Well-Watered
Although in some situations you may need to water daily, it’s very important to water your plants deeply – a minimum of 6 inches down – at least once a week for clay soils, and twice a week for sandy soils. Don’t guess – check your soil moisture level by using a trowel to dig 6” down.
You’ll gradually learn how much you need to water your garden to maintain a good moisture level. Expect your garden to need at least twice as much water (or even more) during periods of extreme heat. High winds can also increase water demand.
Make sure you don’t let the soil dry out too much in between watering. Fruits like tomatoes can split if the skin hardens during a dry spell, and then there’s a sudden period of rain. The same thing can also happen to squash and even potatoes.
Ripe fruit (tomatoes, melons, peppers, etc.) require large amounts of water from your plants. To reduce heat and water stress on your heavily-producing plants, harvest your ripe fruit frequently and thoroughly (including damaged fruits).
Organic Matter and Mulch
Healthy levels of organic matter (about 5-9%, depending on your soil type and climate) can make a huge difference in helping the soil to retain more water. In addition, a healthy soil full of beneficial soil organisms, such as mycorrhizal fungi, helps plants to better tolerate drought.
Using straw, grass cuttings, shredded leaves, etc. for mulch will keep the soil cooler and prevent it from drying out as quickly – but don’t use too thick of a layer. While mulch can help preserve moisture in the soil, a thick layer can also prevent rainfall from reaching the soil underneath, as the mulch itself can absorb large amounts of water.
Avoid Brick, Stone, and Concrete
These will absorb extra heat and continue to release it after the sun sets – the equivalent of the “urban heat island” effect in your garden. Your garden will also be hotter if you place it up against an unshaded south or west side of buildings (in the northern hemisphere). You can keep your garden cooler by surrounding your garden beds with lawn grass or organic mulch.
Keep Your Garden Well-Weeded
OK this last one isn’t that fun, but weeding is important. Weeds usually have much more vigorous root systems than do our domestic vegetables, and they can out-compete with our crops for water in the soil. Do your garden a favor, and keep the weeds out.