2012-08-09 / News

How to beat the heat

The Island Garden

We gardeners have had a rough go of it lately with temperatures soaring into the 80s and 90s, so I have come up with a solution. The first part of the solution is to find a large glass of your favorite beverage. The second part is to sit beside your pool or the seashore until all the plants in your garden wither and go away. Then you have the perfect reason to sit beside the water every day. You can tell anybody that will listen, that the drought got to your plants and you are so disheartened that you need to sit beside the water and recover. By fall you should have recovered enough to want to garden again.

Unfortunately, most of us like our gardens too much to let them wither away, so we mulch heavily, save runoff H2O, and water our plants every night. Hanging baskets get watered two or three times a day and vegetables get picked daily. (Those that the deer leave, anyway.)

I noticed the other day that any soil shaded by plants tends to have a damp surface while areas that are not shaded dry out rapidly. Thus the solution is to keep your soil well shaded. This might mean applying mulch, leaving weeds to grow (pick them before they go to seed), or maybe putting some form of shade over your garden bed. As long as the wind can blow under the shade to keep plants cool, a shade fabric is often very helpful.

Keeping your plants cool is essential for good growth. Plants grow best between 50 and 70 degrees, but soil temperatures should not be higher than 79 degrees unless you are starting tropical plants. When temperatures get above 80 degrees, plants begin to get stressed and do strange things. For example, tomatoes will not set fruit when the temperature goes over 80 degrees. That might explain why tomatoes are available for most of the summer, but get slow around the middle to the end of August as temperatures rise.

Lettuce is another plant that doesn’t like it hot. If you sow a row of lettuce for harvesting in the summer, it usually has bolted before you have a chance to harvest more than a head or two. Growing it under shade helps it to last longer, and the old familiar favorite method was to grow lettuce under a bean tepee or row where the beans helped shade the lettuce and helped to provide extra nitrogen for fast growing roots. That didn’t happen in my garden this year: the groundhog left me with beans about an inch high. But he – or, heaven forbid, she, who might have babies – was fat and happy looking when I saw it last Sunday on the way to eat more of the dahlia plants.

I also grew pumpkins this year. With their hairy leaves you’d think they’d be too rough for animals to eat, but the groundhog ate the lot, leaving me with long stalks of nude pumpkin vines. Needless to say, it’s about time this groundhog found a new home in somebody else’s garden – maybe a garden in Maine or even Vermont. All I have to do to persuade it is tell it that gardens to the north would be far more interesting to live in.

With all the animals, the heat and the lack of water, I’m quitting gardening. Next year I plan on not growing anything, not even a lawn. All I’m going to do is enjoy my favorite beverage, read a favorite book and sit beside the shore waiting for the tide to come in.

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