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Mulch is good, and more mulch is better

Don't let the sun cook your plants' roots

104 -- and not yet the peak of the heat.
(Photos: Kathy Morrison)
It's June 4 and it's going to be at least 100 degrees again this afternoon. Do you know where your mulch is?
I bought more straw this morning after I took a soil thermometer out into my rapidly heating backyard Wednesday afternoon. The air temperature at 2:15 p.m. was 99 degrees, according to my cellphone's weather app, and the wall thermometer in the shade in the garden itself read 98. So it already was plenty hot.
I stuck the soil thermometer into the top inch of a non-mulched spot next to a basil plant in my raised bed, which at that point was in full sun (and had been for several hours).
The thermometer popped up to 104 degrees -- in the area on the thermometer helpfully labeled "MAX."
I pushed the thermometer down several inches in the same spot; the number dropped to 97 degrees. Still quite hot, but better.  Next I tried a shady area in the same raised bed: 82 degrees, in the optimal range. So my goal is to bump up the mulch here, and keep those plant roots in the optimal range. The cooking can happen later, in the kitchen.
A few other gardening notes on this early June day:
-- Harvest Day this year will be virtual, because of the coronavirus risk. This is a big event held the first Saturday in August at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center. The UCCE Sacramento County master gardeners typically show off their demonstration gardens in a festive atmosphere. This year, the master gardeners will have a collection of videos highlighting their various areas. There will be a lot more information coming as we get closer to August. One good thing: The videos will allow folks who've never been able to attend Harvest Day to "visit" the Hort Center.
Squash plants, hanging in there. They'll get more
-- Keep a close eye on your vegetable plants. With this heat, all the nasty things that can happen to them are being exacerbated. Bugs! Wilting! Fungus! Pollination problems! But remember: Don't overwater; don't feed a plant that's wilting; keep some shade cloth handy for the plants suffering most. Oh, and mulch!


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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