Keeping Your Plants Cool When the Mercury Climbs

Wilted flowers

Wilted flowers

Everybody’s looking for a way to stay cool this summer, but while we’re drinking iced tea with the fans on full blast, our poor plants tend to get forgotten. After all, they get hot, too, especially if they’re container-bound. If you’ve got a bad habit of letting your plants get hot, crispy and toasted in the summer, I’ve come up with a list of things you can do to break the cycle. After all, when the weather cools down, it’d be lovely to have something left growing.

Water, water—everywhere! – I know the middle of the day is hot and horrible, but your plants think so, too. Whether they’re container plants or unmulched members of the vegetable garden, they can get easily overheated in the sun. Most gardeners don’t think to try midday watering, but if you water deeply and have adequate drainage, the cool water helps to reduce the temperature of your plants at their roots, where it matters most.

Create some shade – Portable shades can be as simple as an old tarp on a PVC frame, but you should really consider using them. Again, midday heat is the big killer of heat tender plants, so if you can put up a shade to protect them from the sun’s harsh rays, it’ll go a long way to keeping your plants healthy and happy. This is simpler to do when you’ve got one or two favorite plants that you’re trying to protectwhole gardens may be too big to cover easily.

Move things around – You know when the summer is at its worst in your area, so plan ahead. Just because your petunias look beautiful on your sunny front lawn is no reason to leave them there to die in the heat. Move them to a spot that’s shady except in the morning or late afternoon and they’ll last a lot longer. In the future, choose annuals like gazanias that thrive in the burning sun as your sunny side centerpieces.

Pile on the mulch – Some gardeners shy away from mulch because they see it as a real headache or don’t want to deal with decomposing wood products. These folks are forgetting how many other options they have for mulch these days. If you’re not a fan of wood mulch, pile some straw, pine needles or newspapers down around your plants to help keep them cool and moist. Repeat after me: mulch is your friend, mulch is your friend…..

Turn on some fans – OK, plants don’t sweat the same way we do, but they do derive some cooling benefit if you move warm, stagnant air away from their leaves. Plants that are especially thickly constructed or heavily leaved will benefit more than sparser plants, but even the little bit of evaporation from extra water coming from their stomas can cool plant tissues down. Just make sure your plants are well-watered, or you may end up accidentally dehydrating them with all that extra air movement.

The summer’s heat doesn’t have to turn your garden into a desert if you know how to keep yourself and your plants cool this year. Armed with a little knowledge and lots of mulch and water, you’ll be the envy of your neighbors when your window boxes and delicate container plants thrive despite the oppressive temperatures outside.

[box]by Kristi Waterworth[/box]

image: Jennifer Gaillard (Creative Commons BY-NC-SA)
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