Thursday, June 30, 2011

Plants wilting in the middle of the day?

Do your plants wilt during the middle of the day, every day, in the blistering heat of summer?

Do you panic and water them immediately? (Quite a normal reaction.)

Well don't despair. Your mid-day wilty plants may not need water at all. And in fact, if you water them, you may actually may be making the problem worse.

Wilting Hamelia (firebush): notice the curled leaves and droopy flowers

Here's the deal:
First, as a general rule of thumb, plants don't grow when temperatures are above 96 F. (And when was the last time we saw 95 around here?) One reason for this is because plants need water to grow. That's pretty obvious. But did you know that plants can't take up water without losing water? And plants are pretty smart (I have a botany professor that would kill me for anthropomorphizing plants), so they shut down their water loss, thus their water uptake and growth, at times when it would be harmful for them to grow. The process of how water moves into the roots, through the plant and out through the leaves is called transpiration.

So how will you know if your plants are just taking a little siesta or if they truly need water? Watch to see if they straighten up once the sun goes down, or if they've recovered by the next morning. If so, there's a good chance they need lower temperatures and more more moisture in the air, not in the soil.

There's not a whole lot you can do about the temperature, but you can mitigate heat if you establish shade over your plants, which may not be a very real possibility. But if it is, use shade cloth. White shade cloth, which reflects the most light would be good. But black shade cloth would also work well.

As to the moisture in the air, mulching will help. Make sure to have lots of mulch around your plants. Keep the mulch moist by watering the area just enough that the mulch gets wet without over watering the soil beneath it. Wetting the mulch daily, or even twice a day, may help your plants. But they still may also wilt. Either way, the moisture in the air around the plants helps to limit water loss, which will help relieve some of the heat stress.

But one thing you don't want to do is keep the soil completely drenched at all times. This sets up a situation where the roots are damaged due to the lack of oxygen, and to the possibility of disease.

Check out this video of a segment, Why Plants Suddenly Fall Over, that I did on Central Texas Gardener, which addresses this question from one of our viewers.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Help Your Lawn Stay Healthy

Central Texas Lawn Care
Thursday, July 14, 2011, 7:00-9:00pm
Zilker Botanical Garden
2220 Barton Springs Rd., Austin TX  78746

Central Texas weather is presenting us with more challenges than usual in the landscape, especially with lawns. Master Gardener, Jerry Naiser will provide you with solutions for growing a healthy lawn.  Topics will include choosing the right type of turf for your soil conditions, irrigation, fertilization, proper mowing techniques and how to diagnose and treat pests and diseases.  

For more information, contact the Master Gardeners Help Line at (512)854-9600.  This seminar is presented by the Travis County Master Gardeners, a volunteer arm of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Travis County.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dealing with the Heat

We finally got some rain here in the Austin area, and a good amount, too. But was it enough to save our plants? Well, every little bit certainly helps, but we are still in a severe deficit for the year. In fact, for the past several years. And drought-stress builds over time, leading to secondary issues, and a shortened life-span for our landscapes.

So what should you do to help your plants survive in these dry times? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Irrigate properly. I know that sounds simple enough, but it takes a little more thought than you might expect. Make sure to water slowly (at a low pressure), so that the water penetrates the soil as deeply as possible and doesn't run off into the street. Consider lowering the water pressure by half and allowing the sprinkler to run twice as long. The deeper the soil profile is wet, the deeper your plants roots will grow, helping to insulate them from the hot, dry soil and temperatures above.

2. Don't fertilize or prune. Fertilizing and pruning plants encourage them to grow, and in this climate, with so many days already over 100 degrees F, the last thing your plants need to be trying to do is grow. One plant strategy for dealing with stress is to go dormant and wait until times get better. Allow your plants to take a rest (this includes lawns).

3. Replenish mulch around plants and in beds. With the dry heat and bright sun this spring, it has felt much more like summer. And the mulch that you applied last spring or fall, may have deteriorated and need to be replaced. Mulching insulates the soil against the heat and the baking sun. And it also breaks down and helps improve the soil structure, leading to better water-holding capacity.

4. Move containers into the shade. If it's at all possible, move your container plants out of the baking sun and be prepared to water them every day, or even twice a day. Containers can act like ovens, ooking your plants roots before you know what's happened.

5. Resist the urge to over-water. Believe it or not, plants that have plenty of water in the soil may also wilt. That's because the heat is so stressful that plants have to close their pores to keep water inside. And when they do that, they wilt. This is very common in tomatoes, which will wilt in the middle of a hot day no matter how much water is in the soil.

6. Don't. Plant. Anything. If you have purchased plants recently, try your best to wait until September to plant them. I know that's a long time away. And I know how difficult it is to keep plants alive in their nursery containers, but it really is best to avoid any and all new planting at this time. If you can, re-pot your new plants into one-size larger containers and keep them in a protected, shady area where it will be easy for you to water them. But if you need to plant them, watch them very closely and water them daily, if not more often. Watering in the morning helps keep plants hydrated during the day, then they have the night to recover.

Contact us about your particular drought-stress situation and we'll help you decide how to handle it!

Sunday, June 12, 2011 will rain again. Be prepared!

Rain Gardens
June 18, 2011, 10am-12pm
Zilker Botanical Garden
2220 Barton Springs Rd., Austin TX  78746

Excess stormwater carries urban landscape contaminants into storm drains and soil erosion causes sediments to accumulate in our water resources. Dr. Dotty Woodson, Water Resources Specialist with Texas Agrilife Extension, will tell us how to protect streams, rivers and lakes by building a rain garden.  These lovely gardens are attractive landscape features planted with perennial native plants designed to absorb stormwater which filters it through plant roots and soil microorganisms.  Attend this free presentation and you’ll be ready to make your own beautiful solution.

This seminar is free and open to the public.  It is presented by the Travis County Master Gardeners, a volunteer arm of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Travis County. (512)854-9600

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On a budget? Learn how to make more plants for your garden

Plant Propagation
Friday, June 3, 2011, 10am-12pm
Travis County AgriLife Extension Office
1600-B Smith Rd., Austin TX

Plants have developed many methods to ensure survival.  Learn propagation techniques which take advantage of some of these methods to create multiple plants from a single plant.  Discover the importance of the propagation media, moisture, light, humidity, temperature, rooting hormones which ensure success.  Examples of propagation by seeds, leaf and stem cuttings will be covered.  This free seminar is presented by the Travis County Master Gardeners, a volunteer arm of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Travis County. For more information see or call the Master Gardener Public Gardening Help Desk at (512)854-9600.