Vegetable plants need nutrients, sun and water to thrive. If they are popped into the soil and left on their own they most likely will do poorly, unless your climate has the perfect amount of rain, sun and fertile soil. A heat wave with no rain and dry windy days will suck the moisture from the ground and leave the vegetables vulnerable. How can we protect the vegetable garden? Below are five actions that will aide the vegetable plants during a dry spell.
1. Mulch: A good, organic mulch that is at least three inches thick will go a long way in aiding plants during a heat wave. Water deeply before applying the mulch to the plants, leaving a little space between the stems and the material. This will act as a barrier so the soil doesn’t dry out as quickly, plus it helps keep it cool.
2. Proper Watering: Sprinklers are easy, and widely used, but they aren’t the best way to water the vegetable garden. Sprinklers waste water rather than concentrating it where it is needed. Soaker or drip hoses are one of the best methods of watering when they are placed under the mulch, an inch or two away from the base of the plants, where the roots will be moistened. Run the soaker hose for an hour twice a week if there is little or no rain. Do not turn the water on full blast. If the soaker hose is spraying out of the holes it’s “sprinkling” instead of soaking. The point of this watering method is to slowly soak the ground around and under the plant, rather than the foliage or stems. Some gardeners use a drip irrigation system, which works well for a large garden. It’s more expensive than a soaker hose, but it does a great job of watering at the soil level with just the amount of water needed.
3. Provide Shade: Temperatures above 90 degrees F. can burn some plants foliage (see the picture below) , and may even cause blossoms to drop off. Use a light weight cloth such as cheesecloth, muslin or a bed sheet to provide shade for your vegetables during the hottest part of the day. Attach the material to stakes or poles above the plants, allowing room for the air to circulate.
4. Fertilize Carefully: High nitrogen fertilizers will help the plants produce more foliage, but not more vegetables. Use a slow release fertilizer, organic if possible, and follow the instructions. Over fertilizing can cause blossom end rot, as can uneven watering. When plants are stressed from the heat they should be fertilized gently.
5. Early to Rise: Wake up early and do everything in the morning that pertains to the garden. Harvest daily so that the plants don’t spend extra energy on vegetables that are already ripe. Watering should only be done in the early morning, not in the hot part of the day. Pick off tomato worms or other pests and remove damaged fruit or foliage in the morning as well. Try to be gentle and don’t disturb the soil near the plants during extreme heat waves.
Heat above 90 degrees F. with no rain in sight can be tough on a vegetable garden. Following these five tips will help the plants make it through the heat and drought. Doing nothing could result in dead plants and little or no harvest. It’s not too late, start now, and nurture your garden through the heat.