by Charlene Burgi
The signs were all around. The bird population around the feeders and water features waned during midday. The donkeys migrated under the shade of the trees in their pasture. And the garden seemed to scream, “Hydrate me” as the temperatures soared.
The temperatures weren’t the only thing soaring. I seemed to develop a heightened awareness as to what was going on, in and around the garden. The signs of how the plants were responding in the heat dictated a decisive strategy on my part for garden survival.
Surprisingly, it was the puppies that helped me with the first strategy for getting the garden through the heat unscathed. During the heat spell, Misty and Sassy would rise before the sun, rooting me out of blissful sleep. Two unattended pups could equate to a disaster I am not willing to risk by attempting to catch a few extra winks. The early mornings were a godsend as they found me in the garden, checking plants for heat stress before the sun peeked over the mountain top to the east of us.
Heat stress can appear as wilting or dry leaf tips. Even adequately irrigated plants will need time to recover from wilt during the cool evenings. During the daytime we might note that wilting plants may have plenty of water available; however, they cannot draw the precious water up fast enough to the leaf tips to remain turgid. And any attempt at spraying water overhead can risk further burning the foliage in the afternoon heat. Sometimes it helps to create a shade cloth cover to protect the sensitive plants from the intense direct sunlight. Lastly, mulching plants will keep the roots cooler and prevent the soil moisture from evaporating as fast.
I tried all mentioned methods of pampering the newly planted perennials that had not yet had time to set deep roots, and these methods seemed to work. Yet the best thing I did for the new perennials was to water them first thing so they were hydrated to meet a hot morning sun.
Before sundown I made another tour of the garden checking for additional signs. Tools such as soil probes are great for determining if there is adequate moisture in the ground. The soil probe is able to pull a core of soil that indicates where the moisture level is in relation to the root zone. This information allows time to run an irrigation cycle to that station if needed.
Signs also carried painful lessons. The greenhouse inhabitants showed signs of stress. Plants located next to the siding on the southwest-facing table withered in the heat. I recalled, years ago, seeing whitewashed greenhouse walls that I now understand reflected the heat from hot summer sun. That recollection and puzzling the pieces together came too late for a few astilbe I had started in containers for the shade garden. I managed to keep the greenhouse humidity level up by planting directly into the ground of the greenhouse and keeping those plants well watered. I still need to add a mist system to increase the moisture level of the interior atmosphere. For now, spraying the interior roof provided a mock rainfall that the plants seemed to enjoy.
It is my understanding that this heat, while not as intense, may continue through the weekend. How did you fare during this past week? Would you do something different? Did you learn anything, as I did? Most important, did you remember to take care of yourself by staying hydrated and using a good sunscreen while outdoors?