We're Having a Heat Wave!

By Paul James

Recent rains were a nice respite, but now it looks as though we’re heading into an extended period of hot weather, with heat indices climbing well into the 100s and few chances for additional rain. That’s hardly surprising, given that it’s officially summer. And with that in mind, here are the two most important words to keep in mind – mulch and water.

Mulch – A thick layer of mulch is great for maintaining even soil moisture and soil temperature, two things plants love. Mulch also prevents annoying summer weeds from popping up all over. And on top of all that, it looks great. Choose from among chipped or shredded wood products, or try pine needles. A two- to four-inch layer is ideal, but keep mulch a few inches away from the base of plants to avoid rot and damage by mice, who love to chew on bark in search of moisture.

Water – Of course you have to water, but how much and how often? That’s one of the toughest questions to answer, because there are so many variables to consider. But in general, annuals, perennials, and turf grasses need at least one inch of water every week, and the way to measure that amount is about as low tech as it gets. Place a straight-sided can (I use a tuna can) in the garden bed or lawn, turn on the sprinkler, and determine how much time it takes to fill the can with water up to an inch. That’s how long you need to water every week. As temperatures climb in to the mid 90s and beyond, you might want to water twice a week.

Trees and shrubs up to six-feet tall need roughly three gallons of water a week, whereas larger ones need up to 10 gallons. Time how long it takes to fill a one-gallon watering can at a slow trickle from the hose, and multiply by three or 10 to determine how long you’ll need to leave the water running. And while it’s running, move the hose in a circular pattern several feet away from the base of the plant for even distribution.

If you rely on an automatic sprinkler system, use the tuna can test to determine how long you’ll need to run the system, but be prepared to water trees and shrubs by hand regardless.

And finally, plan on watering patio pots and hanging baskets at least once a day, maybe twice a day if they’re in direct sun.

Beyond taking care of your plants, be sure to take care of yourself. Stay hydrated, take frequent breaks, wear sunscreen and mosquito repellent, and try to avoid working in the garden during the hottest part of the day.