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Heat wave effects: You know you're a gardener when ...

Early watering and extra worries define these hot days

This instant-read thermometer shows the air temperature at 104.2 degrees in shade at 2:35 p.m. today, July 4. It was about 9 degrees higher in full sun.

This instant-read thermometer shows the air temperature at 104.2 degrees in shade at 2:35 p.m. today, July 4. It was about 9 degrees higher in full sun. Kathy Morrison

Sacramento gardeners know how to handle summer heat: It comes with the territory. But the current extended heat wave is testing even the most experienced among us. We planted gardens in the expectation of crops, flowers, shade and beauty. Our gardens in turn depend on us to provide optimum conditions for growth. Not unlike children, come to think of it.

I was contemplating all this early today while at my community garden plot. Here, on the morning of a national holiday, it was already 79 degrees, and more than a few of us were up, dressed and working for the survival of our plants -- tending, watering, adjusting shade cloth. Quite a dedicated bunch.

With this in mind, I present the Heat Wave Edition of "You Know You're a Gardener When ..."

-- Your first thought on waking at daylight is "Did the irrigation system go on?" And you jump out of bed to check.

-- The next thing you do is pop open the worm bin, to make sure it's not getting too hot. And prepare a treat for the occupants: "Look, I have watermelon rind for you, your favorite!"

-- You're tempted to put sunscreen on your tomatoes to prevent sunscald. (Uh, don't, but use on lot on yourself. Use shade cloth, burlap or even a lace tablecloth to protect any tomatoes exposed to direct sun.)

-- You decide that deadheading the roses would just mislead them about current conditions.

-- You're willing to sacrifice your beach umbrella to protect that expensive new shrub.

-- You accidentally-on-purpose spray yourself with the hose while wetting down the raised beds.

-- Like an attentive waitperson, you wander around outside with a jug of water asking, "Anyone need a refill?" That's always a yes for the little water dishes set out for the bees and wasps -- they dry out in just a few hours.

-- You take your kitchen instant-read thermometer outside to check the afternoon sun-vs.-shade temperatures. It proves there's about 9 degrees difference.

-- You apologize profusely to the citrus tree that hasn't been fertilized since early spring. "You'll just have to wait 'til it's cooler -- fertilizer now isn't recommended."

-- You stand at the window, considering whether it's worth it to run outside into late-afternoon heat to pick some basil for dinner. And then you do it.

-- You decide that any floppy branches create shade and just let them be. For now.

-- You silently celebrate the heat death of weeds.

Happy Fourth of July, gardeners, and congrats on making it this far! Let's all hope for cooler days ahead.


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Garden Checklist for week of July 14

Your garden needs you!

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to reduce the chance of fungal infection and to conserve moisture.

* Feed vegetable plants bone meal, rock phosphate or other fertilizers high in phosphate to stimulate more blooms and fruiting. (But wait until daily high temperatures drop out of the 100s.)

* 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.

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

* 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.

* It's not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers.

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