How do our plants cope with the heat? Sure, succulents don’t seem to mind with their fleshy, waterfilled leaves — but most of the rest of our plants can get really stressed.
Typically, our plants will tell us when the heat is making them unhappy. They may protest the excessive temperatures by wilting — a definite sign of water loss. If we fail to notice their cries for help, the wilting will get worse. If we don’t do something to alleviate the stress, our plants will eventually dry out and turn a crispy brown before they give up and die. Occasionally, the leaves may yellow first.
Stressed out trees will often ask for water by dropping leaves — and some plants will do that, too; they “shed” in an effort to conserve water.
In excessively hot weather, our vegetables may refuse to produce. We understand this — people don’t love working in the sun during brutal heat waves, either. Some of our favorite garden plants like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins and beans will cope with the heat by dropping their blossoms, and cool weather crop plants will bolt in a hurry. Additionally, tomatoes, peppers and squash will often suffer from blossom end rot during heat waves.
What can we do to help our plants cope during the hot summer days? Here are a few suggestions to pamper our heat-stressed plants:
Water often, and water properly! Early mornings are best and our in-ground plantings prefer a good soaking every couple of days rather than just watering a little bit every day. Don’t forget container plantings may need water twice a day when it’s hot — especially if it’s also windy. Using trays under those containers may help preserve their moisture, too.
After watering, it’s a good idea to “seal” the soil with mulch or compost. This helps keep the water in the soil longer and also shades the delicate root systems from the sun. If we plan ahead, we can plant densely and create natural shade for our plants. Sprawling cucumbers, melons and squash work really well for this!
When plants are stressed out, it’s important to stop feeding them. Fertilizing plants when they are stressed only exacerbates the situation and makes it much harder for them to cope.
If it’s very hot and plants are showing signs of significant stress, consider creating shade for your plants.
There are a lot of simple options — white bed sheets, old tulle-type fabric, netting — just about anything for the garden plants will work. By moving your container plants to a shadier location during the hottest times of the day, you can provide some relief. Additionally, shade cloth (this often comes with wire stands) is an option and should be available — in varying levels of sun-block protection — for purchase at your favorite garden center.
Another thing we can do to help our vegetable plants, especially during hot weather, is to harvest their fruits promptly. Harvesting as soon as the produce is ready will help conserve the plant’s energy.
Plants, much like people, can get really stressed out on hot days. If we do a few simple things, we can help them cope with the heat, reduce potential damage and improve their appearance as well as crop production.
Rae Punzel is a Kenosha writer and horticulturalist. She owns Bennu Organics, a horticulture services and consulting business. Contact her at email@example.com.