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Pat Munts: How to deal with extreme heat

Floating row cover protects a Rogersia plant. This bed gets two hours of direct sun everyday, enough to burn and wilt sensitive plants. The Ligularia in the background wilts easily in direct sun but will recover quickly in the shade.  (Pat Munts/For the Spokesman-Review)

Last week was hot! I had flashbacks to last summer until I realized that the temperatures were going back to “normal” this week. The sudden jump in temperature was a shock to the gardens as well. I had several droopy plants to deal with. What the weather will be like through the rest of August and September is anybody’s guess. It is better to be safe than sorry so here are a few things to do out in the garden.

First, check your irrigation system. The cool beginning to summer had us dialing them back because there was enough rain. Now is the time to set them to water longer two to three times a week, 15 minutes a run isn’t enough. Lawns should have at least an inch and a half of water a week now. Set out some cat food or tuna-sized flat cans to measure the output of your current system run time.

Watering should be done sometime between around 5 p.m. overnight until about 10 a.m. If you water during the heat of the day, half of the output will simply evaporate before it reaches its destination. We are fortunate here we can water through the night without encountering disease issues seen in more humid climates.

If you have plants that tend to wilt or burn in really hot weather, provide some temporary shade to the plants. Beach umbrellas, large pieces of cardboard and pieces of floating row cover or old, thin cotton bedsheets can be set up to shade plants. To keep the fabric from blowing away wrap the corners around a rock and tie it off.

Lawns for the most part go dormant when it gets hot. As a result, this is not the time to apply fertilizer as the plants won’t use it. The best times to fertilize a lawn are in mid-spring and again in mid-September with a slow-release fertilizer. A very dark green lawn is not a healthy lawn. High nitrogen fertilizers cause too much energy to go into blade growth and sapping deep, drought resistant root development. I use a slow-release fertilizer with under 10% nitrogen to fertilize my lawn if I fertilize at all. Set your mower blade as high as you can to leave the grass long. The extra height helps shade the ground and reduce evaporation.

New plantings will need extra water now as they haven’t had time to develop a strong deep root system yet. Small sprinklers set on hose end timers are an easy way to get water to these plantings, so you don’t have to remember to do it. Mulch open areas of garden beds to reduce evaporation. Shredded leaves and pine needles, clean grass clippings, shredded bark or wood chips all make good mulches. None of these will affect nutrient levels in the soil. If you need a lot of arborist wood chips, check out Chip Drop online at For a small fee, arborists will drop a truckload of chips in your driveway.

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