An early season heat wave is making its way through southern California. The 80-90 degree temps and drought conditions have some gardeners concerned about their vegetable gardens and newly planted seedlings. The heat, dry conditions and now the Santa Ana winds moving in, can all put your plants under a lot of stress. So what’s a gardener to do? Water and keep your plants out of the extreme heat. Sounds pretty common sense, right? But how much water? Twice a day? When the soil “looks” dry?
The first sign of trouble is wilting plants. Stress stress stress. Too much stress and your veggies might not make a comeback. Whether you’re growing established vegetables or new transplants, you want to keep the soil moist at all times, but not soggy. You don’t want to see puddles sitting on top of the soil. On really hot days, you might have to water twice instead of watering too much at one time. Try to water the soil and not the plants. Soaker hoses placed in between rows are ideal since the tiny holes in the hose provide a constant drip that penetrates deeply into the soil, encouraging deep root growth. Avoid using a sprinkler since 90 percent of the water is lost to the wind. Water in the morning to prevent heat scald which can damage tender leaves. A two inch layer of mulch around your plants will save water and time. You can use dry grass clippings from your yard as long as it’s pesticide and chemical free. They also provide nitrogen which your plants need in their early growth. Pine needles are another great alternative.
Your garden is going to survive a few days of hot sun. If there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to the high heat, there are a few things you can do to protect your plants. Row or plant covers can be purchased at most garden stores. They’re made of a lightweight fabric that still allows air circulation but protects your crops from that hot direct overhead sun. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can make your own with old sheets. You will need a 2-3 foot tall wooden stake for each corner of your garden bed. Pound the stakes into the ground and staple a corner of the sheet to each stake. This is a two person job because you need the sheet to be taut by the time you staple the last corner. The sheet shouldn’t touch your plants. When the weather has cooled down a bit, you can remove the cover and fold it up for next time.
If you’re growing plants in containers on your deck or patio, it’s much easier to keep an eye on things. You can easily move your pots into a shaded area if they’re getting too much sun. They are going to dry out faster too so you’ll probably be watering them more than once a day. I’ve had to water my basil 3 times on really hot days. The deep roots of basil, tomatoes and other container plants are going to let you know when they’re thirsty by their wilting leaves. If you can water them before they’ve wilted, then you have a head start. Stick your finger an inch down into the soil. If your finger is dry, then water deeply.
It was a lot of work getting those seeds to sprout and planting your garden. These couple precautions are going to save your vegetables. The heat wave won’t last forever!