Are your outdoor plants gasping in this heatwave? Mine are. I check on them morning and night, gently pulling off yellowed and dead leaves, shaking my sweaty fist at the brutal sun, and watering, watering, watering. I mean, what else can we do?
Well, here are a few ideas.
Lay down a thick layer of mulch. Mulch keeps plant roots and soil temperature cooler, and helps retain moisture. About 2-3 inches should do it. Any less and the pesky, drought-happy weeds will just laugh and pop through with abandon. Any more and you may actually block rain or irrigation from getting in AND oxygen-starve your roots. NOTE: Although it’s fun to just throw on mulch with abandon, keep it off and away from the plant base—it could cause plant rot.
If the summer sun seems to be burning your plant’s leaves, consider putting up shade cloth. Think of this as a lightweight umbrella, filtering harsh rays and giving your plants a break. Go with white or light-colored cloth and install it on posts or poles or even bamboo. Here’s a great how-to link: https://youtu.be/lFbloOu_raQ.
If your flower containers are drying out too quickly, try double-potting them. Just put the original pot inside a bigger pot, then fill the gap with newspaper or those packing peanuts you’ve been storing for an occasion such as this. The bigger pot will absorb the sun’s harsh heat, the layer will act as a filter, and the actual pot will stay cooler. No—this is not the look you were going for when you snatched up that one-of-a-kind planter at the garden center. But your plants will reward you in the blistering summer, and you can release the beautiful pot in the cooling fall.
Remember the mulching tip for your garden beds? That also works for pots! Use up to 3 inches of stones, gravel, sand or bark to protect and reflect sun from the top layer of potting soil. Bonus—this layer pushes water down into the soil and stores it for later. NOTE: You want light-colored stones (yes, yes…black stones are really trendy and pretty, but…) because they reflect sun, not absorb.
And then there are a few “don’ts” for this harsh season: Don’t fertilize—they don’t need it, can’t use it, and it may actually stress out plants even more. Don’t re-pot—this will add even more stress to the shock plants naturally experience during repotting. Don’t prune—not only does this add (wait for it) stress, you expose tender cuts to harsh sun and temps. All of these can wait until fall, when everybody’s ready for a change.
Every single southern summer, I think I might not survive the high temps, relentless sun, and hair-crushing humidity. But I do, and so can your plants with just a little bit of added attention. Now, where did I put those packing peanuts…