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Gardening in the Heat: Tips For You and Your Plants!

This week's DeKalb Extension garden column

It already feels as though we’ve had a couple of months or more of August weather - and now, instead of heading into the milder days of September, we still have another full month of August! We’ve worked hard to keep our gardens looking good, and here are a few things that you can do to get your plants - and yourselves - through the heat:

For you and your plants: Consider the time of day when your gardening tasks are best done. Chores that must be done in sunny areas should be done in early morning or late afternoon whenever possible - not during the midday heat! Most watering, pruning, dead heading, etc., is better for plants when done in early morning - and certainly better for you. If you  must apply chemicals, many of them, especially insecticides, are better applied late in the day when the wind is down and beneficial insects are not present.

Your plants:

Pollination: Constant high daytime temperatures over 90 can halt pollination of blooms because the pollen gets sticky and doesn’t get moved around so easily. This will mean no tomatoes, squash ….  unless you help this process along. If you see blossoms, but no fruit, you can be the pollinator by using a small paint brush!

Fertilizing:  Let your plants rest by avoiding fertilizers. Fertilizers promote growth, which increases the need for more water. Trees and shrubs will have done most of their growth in spring, so their fertilizer needs are less. If you have plants that you do need to fertilize, e.g. your vegetables, do it in small doses, and make sure to water it in. 

Watering: Uneven watering is almost as bad for your plants, especially vegetables, as no watering! Keep the roots moist, but not soggy - total about one inch per week. Soaker hoses under mulch is the best way to do this.

Mulching: Use plenty of mulch - garden beds, containers, around trees. Mulch will keep soil cooler, moister, and reduce heat stress.  It also suppresses weeds, which will otherwise compete with your plants for water - and probably win!

Mowing: Mow your grass a little higher. The grass will shade the soil and cut down on water loss.

Flower beds:  If your flower beds are looking a little sad, you will find plenty of bedding plants that you can still put out - but they will need water!  Just a container in a strategic spot can work wonders in providing a splash of color.

And for you: Stay out of the heat! If you must be outside, allow yourself to acclimate to the heat slowly. Over a period of a week or two, gradually increase the amount of time spent in hot, still areas or in direct sun. Don't save hours of weeding for the first day it goes over 90°!

When you are outside, keep your body temperature cool and try to avoid direct sunlight - not always possible, I know. Though it is tempting to go for the suntan, do not work in the yard in a tank top or without a shirt due to the potential for sunburn and skin cancer. Wear loose fitting, light-colored clothes. Fabric with a high cotton content aids sweat evaporation. Neckbands, headbands, wristbands, visors, and hats can increase evaporation to keep the body cool.

Take frequent breaks to reduce the amount of time spent in the sun or heat. After working for an hour, take a break to cool down and have a drink in the shade to reduce the build up of heat stress on your body.

And stay hydrated.  Because your body loses fluids through sweat, you can become dehydrated during times of extreme heat. So drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink more fluids - and have them cool not cold. Drink from two to four cups of water every hour while working

The following is important information you should know  regarding heat illnesses:

Heat rashes and muscle cramping are often the first signs of heat-related illness, and may lead to heat exhaustion or stroke. Here is how you can recognize heat exhaustion and heat stroke and what to do.

Heat Exhaustion: Heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale, and clammy skin; fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; fainting

What You Should Do: Move to a cooler location; lie down and loosen your clothing; apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible; sip water.

Heat StrokeHigh body temperature (above 103°F); hot, red, dry or moist skin; rapid and strong pulse; possible unconsciousness.  Immediate medical help is needed.

Questions for us? Email me.

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