Protecting Your Vegetable Garden from a Heat Wave

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Living in a desert region with 100F+ degree summers as I do, dry summer heat always means a little extra TLC for my vegetable gardens. Without a little human intervention, a heat wave can wipe out a vegetable garden in
just a couple of days.

The high temperatures of a heat wave damages a plant in several ways. First, there’s the evaporation of soil moisture, which robs the roots of water. A heat wave will also dehydrate a plant by extracting moisture through the leaves and stem. Finally, the hot rays of the sun can sunburn the leaves, turning them a pale yellow-to-tan color which eventually die and fall off. Protecting your vegetable garden from a heat wave means slowing down the loss of water and minimizing sun damage. Here’s how it’s done:

Mulch, mulch, mulch. Mulch is more than a pretty way to finish up a garden. It actually serves an important function in shading tender roots from the sun and slowing the evaporation of ground moisture. Mulch doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy to work; on our homestead farm, we use several layers of black & white newspaper covered with several inches of grass clippings or straw to protect the roots. Old carpet, bark chip, leaves, and clean sawdust also work.

Change how you water. A vegetable garden can basically be watered in two ways, either at ground level or overhead. During a heat wave, overhead watering with a oscillating or other type of sprinkler head should be avoided. The combination of high temperatures and a hot sun can evaporate up to 90% of that water even before it hits the ground. A better watering solution is to use a soaker hose system, watering through channels, or hand watering the roots. Other changes that need to be made include
* Increasing the watering times to twice a day until the temps dip below 90 degrees.
* Avoid watering between 10 am and 7 pm, unless you have a soaker system or irrigation channels. Overhead watering when the sun is beating down on your plants can scald the leaves and kill ‘˜em.
* Deep water when possible. Deep watering encourages deeper root growth.

Provide shade if possible. To protect some of my more vulnerable vegetable plants, I’ll set up my 12×12 Coleman canopy to shade tender veggies during a heat wave. If you don’t own a canopy, sheets draped over 5 foot bamboo stakes can also provide some plant relief.


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