Who said it wasn’t summer yet?! When you walk through the door early in the morning and feel like you have a big bowl of opossum stew around your neck, you know the heat and humidity has arrived for the season.
It’s a difficult time of year for all of us, both for the plants and for the people who care for them.
Sure, we’ve had a bit of hot weather here and there, but a full week of scorching heat and staggering humidity is testing us all. And it’s especially stressful for plants when it happens earlier than normal.
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When the worst of the heat comes on a normal schedule (whichever is normal these days), your container plantings have plenty of time to root and settle into the season. The annuals you planted in front of the azaleas have spread their roots to harvest water from a wide strip of soil. Newly planted trees and shrubs have begun to root beyond the soft, fluffy fill. Once plants have reached this stage of development, they have much more room for error in irrigation schedules. They can handle heat and drying cycles better.
But when record-breaking hot weather hits the plants in mid-June, they aren’t quite ready for that summer heat, so you need to be a little more careful. Here are some tips for keeping your plants as happy as possible despite a tough time.
Why spring flowers like pansies can’t stand the summer heat
If you’ve been feeding your thoughts until late spring, good for you. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the end of the road. Some plants have the ability to withstand consistently high temperatures in the 90s, but pansies are not on this list. It’s good to know the limits of these spring specialists so you don’t tear your sweat-soaked hair trying to make those last, now pathetic blooms last a little longer.
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If you’re anything like me, you have clusters of cute glass containers here and there on the driveway, back patio, and around the front steps. They’re perfect for adding pops of color here and there without having to dig up a whole new bed. But life in a ceramic vessel can be tough.
For just about every plant we grow in this part of the world, the optimum temperature for root growth is between 70 and 70 degrees. In soil well above 80 degrees, most plant roots close. And it is the actively growing roots that do the most to absorb water and nutrients. A quick look at temperatures over the past week (mid-70s at night and high 90s during the day) leaves little doubt as to the root zone temperatures inside these containers. Add the dramatically high heat in this driveway material and the reflected light from the surface and it’s easy to see the contents of the container rising to temperatures well over 100 degrees!
But there are a few things you can do to help. Irrigation is the best solution to cool the roots. If you’re still working from home, plan to water your plants morning, noon, and dinner, whether they need it or not. If you’re in the office all day, hit them in the morning and when you get home. Cold water will quickly drop the temperature inside this container and allow your plants to recover a bit.
You can also group the containers tightly together so that they shade each other for a little thermal relief.
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Why You Should Let Your Hose Cool Before Watering Your Plants
We have all been there. You come home from work and all your plants are wilted and pathetic. As a concerned and committed gardener, you jump out of the car, turn on the tap and immediately flood your thirsty plants with water. Unfortunately, you didn’t realize your pipe sat on the burning driveway all day. The water in this pipe is now the temperature of a cup of McDonald’s coffee before the trial!
Let this hose run for a few minutes until the water is cold. Your plants will thank you.
How can mulch help regulate moisture in a plant’s roots?
It’s pretty obvious, but a nice, even layer of organic mulch laid down about 1-2 inches thick will go a long way to even out temperature and moisture fluctuations in the soil around your plant’s roots. It won’t help much in a planted container, but trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and even annuals planted in the ground will benefit from a light layer of mulch. You’ll be amazed at how carefully applied water evaporates long before it has a chance to reach plant roots.
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Which plants are best for hot summer weather?
While the kind of heat we’ve been experiencing over the past week may be the end of the road for your spring thoughts and put a temporary halt to your tomato blooms, there are actually plants that thrive on heat. .
If you’ve planted a few sunflowers from seed this spring, you’ve probably noticed they’ve grown about 30cm in the last five days. Sweetcorn in the vegetable patch will reach the elephant’s eye much faster in this kind of heat. One of my favorite annuals for the garden, Persian Shield (Storbilanthes dyrianus) which offers superb leaves of an almost metallic purple and silver, usually sits all spring, waiting for the heat. It usually doesn’t do much until mid-July. This year, it’s growing like gangbusters.
Beyond all of that, take your time, drink lots of water, and skip that opossum stew.
Paul Cappiello is the executive director of Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, 6220 Old Lagrange Road, yewdellgardens.org.