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Gardening in a Heatwave: 8 Tips to Help your Plants Survive the Sizzle!

Garden plants enduring a heatwave

Summer 2023 is shaping up to be a scorcher for most of us! With extreme heat becoming more frequent, it is important to adjust your gardening techniques to help your plants beat the heat!

When the heatwaves roll in, it's not just us humans that feel the strain. Our green companions in the garden also experience the scorching impact, and their survival heavily relies on our informed intervention. With the right care, knowledge, and attentiveness, we can help our gardens flourish even in these harsh conditions. Let's dive into the essentials of caring for your garden during a heat wave.

Thermometer showing 112 degrees Fahrenheit (44 degrees Celsius) in Spokane, Washington
-(Way too hot!)

1. Watering Wisdom in the Warmth

While it's a no-brainer that plants need more water when it's hot, the timing and method of watering are equally crucial. During a heat wave, you should water your plants early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are lower. This will minimize evaporation and ensure the water reaches the roots.

Tomato plants, kale, mustard, and carrots growing in a garden at dusk

-(Dusk and dawn are the best times to water.)

Avoid watering in the heat of the day, as the water can act like a magnifying glass, intensifying the sunlight and potentially scorching your plants. Also, remember that overwatering can be just as harmful as underwatering. The goal is to keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy.

2. The Pruning Perspective

Heat stress can cause your plants to wilt and reduce their overall vigor. It's advisable to halt heavy pruning during intense heat waves as it could lead to more stress. However, removing dead or wilted parts of a plant can help to conserve its energy and resources. As a rule of thumb, save major pruning jobs for cooler weather when your plants are less likely to experience heat stress.

Trimmed indeterminate tomato plants growing in part shade next to a fence

-(Indeterminate tomato varieties, like our favorite San Marzano tomatoes, benefit from a regular pruning regimen. A thick leaf canopy at the top is crucial, both to shade the fragile fruit and for effective photosynthesis.)

3. Nutrient Needs in the Heat

Heat can affect nutrient uptake in plants. Nutrient absorption can slow down, leading to deficiencies. During a heatwave, it's essential to supplement your garden with a slow-release, balanced fertilizer to ensure your plants get the essential nutrients they need. Organic matter and compost also help to improve soil texture, moisture retention, and nutrient content.

4. Seeking Shade Salvation

It's not unusual for even sun-loving plants to suffer under the relentless heat of a heatwave. Setting up shade cloths or portable shade structures can provide relief for your plants and protect them from sunscorch. Keep a close eye on plants that are wilting or showing signs of sunburn and consider moving potted plants to shaded areas.

 A habanero pepper plant growing in a terra cotta pot on a patio

-(Even this tiny habanero couldn't handle the heat! It had to move to the covered patio.)

5. Mulch Much?

One of the most effective strategies to conserve moisture and reduce soil temperature is mulching. Applying a layer of organic mulch, like straw or wood chips, around the base of your plants can help to retain water, prevent weeds, and keep the soil cooler.

6. Plant Pairing Perfection

Consider plant pairing techniques where more robust plants provide natural shade to those that are more susceptible to heat stress. This not only enhances your garden's visual appeal but also ensures a balanced, supportive ecosystem that can better withstand heatwaves.

Backyard growing Multihead Neomexicanus hops

-(These Multihead Neomexicanus Hops help provide shade to more sensitive plants like celery, arugula, and herbs. It shades the seating area too!)

7. Don't Neglect Your Newbies

Newly planted or young plants are particularly vulnerable during a heatwave. They have not yet developed extensive root systems to reach deeper moisture sources. Provide them with extra care and attention, ensuring they are well-watered and shaded as needed.

8. Proactive Plant Placement

The most effective way to protect your garden from scorching temperatures is to plan your plant placement in advance. This involves understanding your local climate and growing season, plus an intimate knowledge of your garden's unique microclimates. This strategy equips your garden to stave off the worst possible damage that a relentless heatwave can inflict.

For example in Eastern Washington, we're quite familiar with the rhythm of scorching dry summers and long 16-hour days, so we strategically position our tomato plants on the east side of a fence. This way they receive a generous dose of the morning sun while granting them refuge from the harshest afternoon heat, and we avoid zippered tomatoes!

 Tomatoes growing in partial shade

Heatwaves can be brutal for our green friends in the garden, but with the right care, they can endure and even thrive. Remember to observe your plants closely, adapt your care regimen as necessary, and above all, show your garden some extra love during the heatwave. After all, resilient gardens are born out of attentive, informed, and compassionate caretakers.

Stay cool and happy gardening!

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