DYING FOR A DRINK
THE EXTREME HEAT WE’RE ENDURING MEANS OUR PLANTS WILL NEED EXTRA CARE AND LOTS OF EXTRA WATER
There’s been lots of discussion in the media recently about what we can do to help people and animals cope with the spell of hot, dry weather. But what about the poor plants? They, too, can suffer or even die if we don’t give them extra care in these harsh conditions.
Even sun-hardy plants will suffer on a hot day if they don’t have enough moisture in them. A plant suffering from dehydration may develop brown or burnt patches on the leaves. The leaves, new growth, flower buds or fruit may shrivel or drop prematurely. Like us, plants need more water when the temperature soars, and they dry out even more quickly if there is wind as well.
Different plants have different ways of telling us they are thirsty. If you see leaves rolled in on themselves, drooping leaves and stems, fallen leaves, crispy brown leaves, or dull, wrinkled leaves and stems, there’s a good chance the plant needs water, fast.
It’s important to water deeply, making sure that the water penetrates through the surface of the soil to reach the roots below. Light watering encourages roots to stay near the surface, where they are easily damaged in hot conditions. Mulching the soil surface will help to prevent moisture loss through evaporation, but if the mulch dries out it too can repel water and stop it reaching the soil below. Scrape a little of the mulch away to expose the soil, and make sure it is moist. If not, it’s time to use a wetting agent to help water penetrate the soil rather than just run off the surface.
Weeds need water, too, so removing weeds will stop them from competing with your garden plants for moisture and nutrients.
Very tender plants and seedlings will benefit from some temporary shade to provide respite from the heat. You can spread some shadecloth over particularly vulnerable plants or whole garden beds. A shade factor of about 30 per cent will be enough to take the edge off the harsh sun without making the plant too soft.
Potted plants will need more water than usual. You might want to consider moving the pots to a slightly shadier position until conditions improve.
The best time to water is in the morning. This gives plants time to take the moisture up before the heat of the day. It also lets leaves dry off before evening, so the risk of fungal infection is reduced. Even though it hasn’t rained for such a long time, fungal diseases are rife thanks to the high humidity.