Did you Know…
… that the growth and nutrient requirement of plants decreases naturally during summer, and all they need is a bit of TLC to carry them through the harsh conditions.
Gardens provide a cool, breezy space perfect for relaxation and a bit of me-time. Unfortunately, extreme weather conditions and record-breaking temperatures – a common occurrence these days, have the potential to wreak havoc on your garden.
To minimize damage, many experts recommend planting native plants to begin with – plants that have evolved over thousands of years and are well adapted to the local conditions. But, a heat wave can damage the native plants as well and besides, we all love a bit of variety.
Another thing we must do is to recognizing the signs of heat damage and provide that particular plant some extra care or move it in the shade. A heat-damaged or dehydrated (usually both go hand-in-hand) plant will reveal itself by displaying droopy, yellow leaves throughout the sun-exposed area; whereas the shaded leaves will have a healthy green coloration. The yellowing generally occurs around the edges and veins and might progress into brown, brittle leaves. Ultimately leading to a permanently damaged plant, unless immediate action is taken.
While you cannot undo the damage once done, you can definitely ensure that the garden stays happy and green, using these simple yet effective steps, before and during a heat wave.
Keep the Grass Taller
It is a good idea to keep the grass longer during the summer months. This has three advantages – two that are good for the garden, and one that is good for you. First, the longer leaf blades will help the soil retain moisture by shielding it from the sun. Two, it will keep the garden cooler, reducing the impact of the blazing sun. And three, it
will cut your mowing time.
Keep the grass approximately ½-inch longer than you usually do. It is best to mow in the morning or evening, so that the lower, shielded leaves get time to get accustomed to the elements. Also, make sure that the blade of the mower is sharp, as a dull blade might damage the leaf tips.
Pruning might stimulate new growth, which is fine and dandy during spring, but the tender shoots and leaves become much more vulnerable to the elements. Limit it to only the dead, infested or decaying parts. A dead branch or a bunch of brown, rotting leaves are perfect candidates for pruning. Use a disinfected blade, as a new cut is an ideal entry point for bugs and pests. You may keep a few dead leaves near the roots, but do make sure they are rot-free. If you have an overgrown shrub or tree, prune it long before the high temperatures set in. The best time to prune a tree is during late winter, just before spring sets in.
Construct a Sun-Screen
The most important step to protect your garden would be to create a barrier between the hot sun and the plants. While most established, native plants may not need the shade, potted plants and newly established trees will need some protection. The shading will also reduce water loss through their leaves, as plants, like us, ‘perspire’ to stay cool. This also means the plant will need much less water to stay hydrated, an important consideration if you are
facing a drought.
You can use anything to construct the barrier, as long as it stays put and is not a fire hazard, especially if forest fires are an issue in your area. Use a bed-sheet, a beach umbrella, a fancy awning, old curtains or even the good old tarp suspended on bamboo poles about 10 feet high. Although, a store-bought canopy will offer better protection as it thicker, more resistant to damage and custom-made to shield the plants.
Move Tender Plants to The Shade
Once the canopy is set, move the delicate plants to the shade. You can also utilize the shade of tall trees or plants, or the house itself. Make sure you group the plant in a cozy manner, meaning they should be huddled closely, but have enough space to grow and breathe. Placing the plants closely will further lower the temperature around them and increase the humidity. Try to place the most delicate ones in the center, with the tougher ones around the edges.
Get Rid of Weeds
Weeds steal all the precious moisture and nutrients from your plants. Plus, they are hardy and manage to thrive even through the worst of conditions. Even worse, they attract pests, diseases and infections making your plants even more susceptible.
Pull out any weeds as soon as you notice them. The younger the weed, the easier it is to get rid of. In case of a well-established weed, cut off the top, leaves and all, with only the stump remaining. You might have to do this several times till its root taps get exhausted. Summer is also the time when you can compost the weeds, as the heat in the compost bin will destroy the seeds naturally.
Mulch helps the soil retain moisture by reducing evaporation of water. This means the plant will require much less water to thrive. It also suppresses the growth of most weeds and provides the plants or shrubs with nutrients. Mulch is an efficient organic and fully natural substitute for both, herbicides and fertilizers.
Add a thick layer (2-inch thick for finer mulch and 4-inch of the chunkier mulch) to all plant beds. Do leave a gap of a few inches around the base of the plant. Do not use a weed mat or plastic sheet as an underlay. Put the mulch deeper, over a newspaper about 16 sheet thick, to prevent weed growth. Also, do remember to weed before you mulch. Preferably, use light, reflective mulch like straw or saw dust during the summer months.
Avoid Watering at Noon
Water in the morning, before the heat sets in, ideally before 10 AM. This will make sure the plants stay hydrated during the sweltering heat and will also help in keeping the temperatures down. The next best option is late afternoon, after the worst of the heat is over, but before evening. This will ensure that the leaves stay dry during the night, which happens to be the preferred time for a fungus to take roots. Also, try to not get the leaves wet if you are watering after 5 PM.
The reason for avoiding watering the plants at mid-day is that the combination of water and heat can actually scald the plants instead of having a cooling effect. Plus, most of the water might evaporate before soaking in the soil and reaching the roots. For best results, water deep, meaning the moisture should reach at least 6 inches deep once you water the garden. Then, water again only after the top 2 inches are completely dry (usually, this means deep-watering every couple of days).
Do Not Disturb the Soil During a Heat Wave
Disturbing the soil at this time will only release the trapped water. You want this moisture to stay in the soil to hydrate your plant as well as to keep the temperatures down. So do not carry out any activity which might disturb the soil, such as digging, weeding, planting or transporting plants. The newly transported plants or young seedlings are much more susceptible and vulnerable. If you have weeds, just cut off their heads, instead of pulling them out, so as not to disturb the soil surrounding them.
In short, the best to protect your garden during a heat wave is to disturb it as little as possible, while ensuring that it is well-hydrated, cool and the plants have sufficient nutrients.