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!

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