Inch by Inch: Heat

Posted Wednesday, June 20, 2012 in Features

Inch by Inch: Heat

This week, finally, summer will really be upon us, and we will have to protect our plants from the ravages of ... yes, summer heat.

Stop laughing. Temperatures in excess of 80 degrees can be hard on plants.

Our plants need sunlight to produce the simple sugars that they need to store as food in their roots (of great interest to potato, carrot, and onion gardeners) or to produce flowers and set fruit (of great interest to the rest of us). 

In preparation for the heat wave, water your plants early in the morning ... before the sun is very high in the sky. Watering after the sun is high can cause significant leaf burn, since water behaves much like a magnifying glass — at least until it evaporates. Water again when the sun is down, and take care to make sure that your plants aren't getting wilted. Even in the heat, if they are wilting, they aren't getting enough water.

You may be able to get some organic vermiculite to try to retain a little water. Vermiculite, among other things, acts like a tiny sponge, absorbing water and releasing it through the day. It's a simple inorganic mineral that is naturally occurring, so there are no issues with earthworms or insect life.

Also, take care to water the base of the plants, rather than the leaves if at all possible. Do this with a soaker hose or simply bend down and water the soil, rather than the plant.

If you have particularly delicate plants in pots, bring them inside for the duration of the heat wave. 

If your plants appear to be getting burned by the sun, first identify whether you are suffering from a bacterial disease (such as flame blight, which looks a lot like a burn). If not, try making a sun-shelter for your beds using some stakes and a few old tarps, or even a beach umbrella. 

While heat is not a problem we associate with Maine gardening in general (usually the reverse!) we usually have one or two intense heat events every year, so be prepared. 

And by the way, don't forget your own sunscreen and sunhat in the garden. Stay hydrated yourself, too!

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