In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
August, 2006
Regional Report

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High noon is not the time to water in the heat. Wait until the sun sets, or better yet, get up before it rises to water your garden.

Beat the Heat

By the time this column runs, the fog will probably have returned, along with our natural air conditioning. However, as I write we are experiencing a heat wave that is holding strong in its 5th day, with no relief in sight. The dog days of summer bring those hot, hot days that can cook an unprepared garden. We still have August, September, and October to get through, and they are notoriously warm. With that in mind, let's talk about a plan to help your plants get through this hot weather without damage.

Conserving Moisture
First and foremost, if you hear a weather report of predicted heat, water everything deeply. Try to drive the water down into the soil to meet the natural moisture level. Mulch is an excellent protection against moisture loss, so if you have the time, spread a few inches of fresh compost, bark, or whatever you have on hand. It creates a barrier that prevents moisture from evaporating. Mulch also protects the surface of the soil from baking in the heat. It's great around shrubs, trees, perennials, vegetables, and annual plantings.

You may see some wilting during the heat, especially in annual plants. Always feel the soil before you water. When it's especially hot, plants lose moisture through their foliage faster than the roots can take up water. If you apply water when they are in this state, you take a chance of damaging the root system. It's best to provide some kind of temporary shade if the soil is moist and the plants are wilting. Newspaper tents, old bed sheets, or row covers can be laid over wilted plants to protect them from the sun. Just make sure there is adequate air circulation under the covering. Stakes or recycled tomato cages work well as temporary supports for coverings.

There are products available that prevent plants from losing moisture from transpiration. Wilt Proof and Cloud Cover are two products that temporarily seal the surface of the leaves to prevent moisture loss. Interestingly enough, in freezing temperatures plants benefit from an application of an antitranspirant for the same reason.

Sun Damage
Fruit can become sunburned in very hot weather. Apples, peaches, and plums are full of water now, and when that water heats up, it expands and can cause the skin to split. If possible, remove sun-damaged fruit from the tree as soon as you spot it. Otherwise the fruits are likely to rot on the trees.

Usually tomatoes relish the heat, but occasionally you will get some sunscald on fruits not protected by the foliage. Tomatoes with split skins are fine to eat, just make sure to harvest them before they go mushy on you.

Sometimes, tender ground covers, such as hypericum, develop brown edges along the leaves from heat. Once September rolls around and the days start getting shorter, you can trim back the burned foliage and still have time for a flush of new growth before the cooler weather sets in. Fertilize with a low-nitrogen fertilizer, and water after the haircut.

When it's really hot, water only in the early morning hours or after the sun goes down. Your garden will thank you. And by all means, wear a hat and sunscreen, and don't do heavy gardening chores during the heat of the day. Keep an eye toward the western horizon for the arrival of that lovely fog bank.


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