Heat Wave

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
I knew the heat was on when the Bubble Gum pink petunia began to fail in the heat after weeks of gorgeous, fragrant trumpets. My fears were confirmed when the hot breeze started to replace the cool one, and when the new leaves on a potted camellia came out smaller than the last. All over town, bright blue vitex is blooming its heart out now in response to warm temperatures, instead of the usual July flowering time. Okra plants only a foot tall are trying to bloom and I won’t be surprised if tomato plants stop flowering or fail to set fruit that was not already initiated about a week ago. Since my crystal ball is not working, I want to be prepared for the worst heat so that anything else is a relief. I’ve got most all the beds mulched, sprinklers and soaker hoses staged for ready use. But there’s more to do. Time to kill weeds. Grassy weeds are often much more drought and heat tolerant than the plants we want to grow. If you do not control that small patch in the flowerbed now, believe me, its spikes will be 2 feet tall in a week. Contact herbicides, whether organic or conventional, work best while weeds are actively growing so get after them. If you have poison ivy or other noxious vines, clip them first at ground level and then treat the newest growth as it emerges for better control. Cut back early annuals. The flowers that have been blooming for weeks like my petunia and black-eyed Susan vine need rejuvenating. They have been happily florific in almost full sun, but need a break now. I moved them into a shadier location and plan to take a deep breath and cut them back hard this week. The remaining few inches of stem and leaves will either resprout or they won’t. I’ll help them along with fertilizer and a few weeks in low light. Get on schedule. Water deeply and you’ll have to water less often. The aforementioned water bill weighs on me, but so does the desire to grow healthy plants. Except for a few pots and shallow raised beds of vegetables that have to be watered almost daily regardless, I water on a weekly schedule. Working my way around the acre of flowerbeds, shrubs, and young trees, there’s a total of about half that much space that has to be irrigated regularly. I divide that into 5 parts, Monday through Friday, and soak shrubs slowly for fifteen minutes. On Saturday and Sunday, if it wilts, it gets watered. No, the lawn seldom gets more than rainfall, nor the trees. Move and mulch pots. When a plant or container wilts before 10 am even though the soil is well prepared and water is available, that plant can usually be moved into less sun or shaded in place to solve the problem. This is not a hard and fast rule, but my heart dips when a plant wilts, so it makes me feel better to ameliorate the conditions. In recent years, I have begun mulching pots lightly with a smattering of bark mulch and do find the need for water is lessened by as much as a day with this preventative measure. Get up early. Perhaps the best way to beat the heat is to get up before it does. If you have to be at work by 9, walk the garden at 7 and make a mental list of what to do when you get home. I usually write early in the morning in winter, but at this time of year the coffeepot kicks off before 6am and I have on garden duds before my teeth are brushed. With a cup in one hand and mosquito repellant in the other, I am out the door and into the garden. By the time I go back indoors for a second cup, the garden is better off and I’m back with the laptop when the heat of the day lights up the thermometer. Change your schedule, or your habits, to keep the garden going when the heat is on.
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