Air conditioners have been getting more of a workout lately than Olympic athletes in training thanks to higher than normal daytime temperatures.
That's OK for a lot of our heat-loving plants, as long as they are getting enough water. Just like us, our plants need to be hydrated.
Many plants love the heat. If you're thinking of flowers, you might want to consider achillea (yarrow); Gaillardia (blanket flower); Nepeta (catmint); or Syringa (lilac), to name just a few.
Vegetables, however, are a bit different. There are many heat-loving vegetables but even they can get too much heat.
It is usually during conditions we are in the midst of now that prompt people to call and ask why their tomatoes, peppers or cucumbers aren't producing fruit even though there are plenty of flowers. The reason is when daytime temperatures hover higher than 95 degrees for several days, it can kill off the pollen. Without pollen, there is no fertilization. Without fertilization there are no tomatoes, or peppers or cucumbers.
It's important not to assume the plants have given up for the season because once the temperatures start to drop back to normal and we are released from the heat, the plants will go back to normal too and begin producing viable pollen once again. In the meantime, keep them watered.
When it comes to watering the garden, there are wrong ways and right ways, especially when it's this hot. Overhead sprinklers are the worst, especially in this heat. Water flying through the air is quickly evaporated and very little lands on the garden soil and the plants. It will take longer to give the plants the deep watering they really need, not to mention all the water that is being wasted.
Deep watering is essential. To give your plants, both those in the ground and those in containers, a few seconds with the garden hose each day is the equivalent of taking a sip from your morning coffee cup and throwing the rest away. Those short bursts of water do nothing for the plants' roots. The deeper the water flows into the soil, the deeper the plants' roots will reach and the plants will be healthier.
Using soaker hoses is the way to go. These plastic or rubber hoses with tiny perforations all along their length can be entwined among the plants in their rows. If you mulch your garden with newspapers or cardboard, simply lay the hose beneath the mulch. Turn on the hose for an hour once a week under normal conditions and more often when the temperatures are extremely hot. While some would say to water every three or four days, I believe that once a week is fine. In nature, it seldom rains that often under average conditions. With our gardens, we try to duplicate nature as much as possible.
When watered slowly at the base of the plants, very little, if anything, will be lost to evaporation. On days there is a good soaking rain, watering isn't needed, but short bursts of rain, usually accompanied by thunder and lightning, don't provide enough water for that deep soaking.
Did you ever wonder why the soil seems dry even after a heavy storm? When the water comes down fast, it doesn't usually have time to soak into the soil before running off into lower areas.
Lawn watering is the same rule of thumb, one inch of water per week if you care to keep your lawn lush and green, even on the hottest days. Personally, we let the lawn go dormant and wait out the worst of summer's heat. Our northeast Ohio lawn grasses are cool-weather plants, which means when the grass turns brown in summer's heat, it isn't dead, it is simply sleeping until conditions get better. We prefer to focus on keeping the vegetables watered and let the grass fend for itself.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's drought monitor, which can be seen at www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html, we aren't in a drought here, at least not yet. If and when that occurs, we may have water restrictions.
One thing to consider is the installation of rain barrels. Rain barrels are used for harvesting rain water to use on our gardens. It is a way of recycling water that otherwise would go directly into our drainage ditches, storm sewers or the ground. Why not head off the inevitable and let our plants reap some benefit from that recycled water? Rain barrels can be purchased or if you are handy, you can make them yourself. Instructions are available through many online sources.