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No Rest for the Wilted: Helping Your Garden through the Heat

By July 6, 2010September 22nd, 20115 Comments
by Val Khislavsky

If you’re feeling the heat of summer, chances are your plants are too. Offer them some respite with these hot weather do’s and don’ts.

Wilted young pepper plants. Photo: Gardendoctor.

We’re experiencing a very summery (translation: hazy, hot & humid) heat wave in Vermont, and as the temperatures rise, so does the stress that plants experience. You might notice leaves wilting and plants drooping, and although you may not be able to change the weather, there are things you can do to help mitigate the effects of summer heat on your garden.

Soaker hose and Tree Gator. Photos: L: Gardener’s Supply Company; R: Greenwalks.

Water generously:
Plants require a thorough soaking in the summertime, especially during spells without natural rainfall. Give your garden a tall drink of water either in the early morning or in the evening, before the sun hits. And, as Erica reminded us in her blog on Willy-Nilly Watering and Other Garden Transgressions, don’t water carelessly and be sure to water plants’ roots instead of their leaves. Also be more mindful of your container plants, as they’ll tend to dry out much more quickly in hot weather. And if you’re a gardener on the go (ie if your patience runs dry before your hose does), drip irrigation using a soaker hose may be a good watering option. Or, for your trees, a tree gator might do the trick (they’re being used for street trees in Seattle and in other urban areas). Your plants will get the water they need and you can get to the other ten billion things you’ve got your hands in.

Mulch to retain moisture:
A good layer of mulch (2-3″) helps retain moisture by slowing the rate at which the soil dries out. Straw or mulch hay (last season’s hay so the weed seeds won’t germinate) is best for vegetables (bark mulch is so carbon-rich that it can draw the nitrogen necessary to break down the mulch away from the veggies that need it for growth). Perennial and annual flowers do well with buckwheat hull or cocoa mulch (although pet owners may want to steer clear of cocoa because the theobromine it contains can be poisonous to dogs and cats), and trees and shrubs can benefit from a layer of shredded bark mulch.

Straw mulch in the vegetable garden. Photos: L: Today’s Garden Ideas; R: Gardening After Five.

Don’t plant or transplant:
Keep in mind the following mathematical equation: (newly planted or transplanted plant + hot weather) x several days = bad idea. Prolonged hot weather puts undue stress on new or newly-moved plants while they’re trying to put down roots and adapt to their new home in your garden. Planting or transplanting will just exacerbate the shock that your plant(s) will feel and will extend the recovery period while increasing the chances of them expiring altogether. Save yourself the embarrassment of being labeled a plant murderer and just keep them potted, watered, and shaded a little longer until a more favorable stretch of weather arrives.

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Erica Bowman says:

    Great article. I would hate to be labeled a “plant murderer” and will heed your advice. On a similar note, I recently learned that cocoa mulch can be toxic to dogs. Spread it wisely.

  • Val says:

    Thanks for the note on cocoa mulch, Erica! I’ve updated the posting with a link for more information on cocoa mulch implications for dogs & cats.

  • Anna says:

    I’ve also learned during this heat spell to not weed close up to little seedlings in the garden – as difficult as it is to resist, I’ve found that the weeds are shading the little guys and the root and soil disturbance can be too much for them to handle. To satisfy my urges, the larger plants can handle the weeding and is quite gratifying to see them perishing in my wake.

  • Liz says:

    Hi, I live in southern VT and have not been able to find a local source for buckwheat hull mulch. Any sugesstions?

  • Hi Liz,

    Thanks for your question. We did a little research–none of us have found a local source in the past couple years–and the best we could find is Birkett Mills in upstate NY. Most retailers in our area get their buckwheat mulch from Birkett and say it’s good quality mulch. Good luck–and please let us know if you find anything closer!