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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 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

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

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

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

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

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

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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