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How to help your plants cope with 100-degree days

During summer heat, your garden appreciates mulch and morning irrigation

In addition to the red umbrella shading the tops of a
few tomato plants, how many shade hacks can you
find in this photo? There's the plant flat on a tomato
cage, the straw mulch in the grow bag, an old
summer hat shading the roots of a plant, and just a bit
of the shadows from a shade cloth and a patio umbrella.
That soil could use some more mulch, however. (Photo:
Kathy Morrison)

How is your garden handling the heat? Chances are your plants are faring better than you.

Which is a good thing – people can retreat indoors to air conditioning or at least a spot in the shade. Plants tend to stay in one place, no matter the temperature.

We appear to be in the midst of a record hot summer. According to the National Weather Service, Sacramento averages 23 days a year with triple-digit temperatures. As of Tuesday, Sacramento already had 19 100-plus days, with Wednesday and Thursday all but assured to reach 100 (or more). And this heat wave is not over.

“Temperatures will remain steadily hot into the next week with most days 5-10° above normal,” tweeted the  Sacramento office of the weather service on Wednesday. “Hottest days will be today (Wednesday), tomorrow (Thursday) & early next week with Valley temperatures 100-105°. Practice heat safety! Find the forecast for your location at .”

Ouch! Fortunately, overnight temperatures remain “normal,” dipping down to about 60 degrees each night. That makes mornings automatically more comfortable.

* Get out early and irrigate as needed; some plants definitely will need some extra water.

* Plants with large thin leaves (such as hydrangeas or squash) tend to loose moisture during high heat. Afternoon wilting is normal for these floppy leaves; wilting in the morning is not.

* Container plantings dry out much faster than solid ground; give plants in pots a morning drink.

* If you haven’t already, slip some cardboard or wood under pots to keep their bottoms cooler.

* Organic mulch (leaves, straw, wood chips, etc.) acts as a cooling blanket over bare dirt. It insulates soil, conserves moisture and drops root temperature several degrees. That will comfort your plants during this heat wave and help them survive with less water, too.

* Dust tends to build up on leaves, adding to plant problems. (They can’t “breathe” if their stomatas – tiny pores on foliage – are clogged.) With a hose, give shrubs a morning shower to wash off dust and clean leaves. (It’s not wasting water; the plant will absorb the moisture and excess will run off to the soil and roots.) Do this in the morning so the leaves will dry off during the day.

* Watch for signs of sunburn. Erect temporary shade over tender plants such as peppers or eggplants if necessary. (See the photo above for ideas.)

* Deep-water trees and shrubs as needed. How can you tell if a tree is getting enough water? Look. Use a soil moisture meter to test soil along a tree’s dripline – the furthest reach of its foliage canopy – or try to plunge a long-handled screwdriver 6 inches into the ground. If the soil is like a brick, it’s time to irrigate.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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