Just like managing your turfgrass during the hottest part of the summer, there are things you need to be doing to help your vegetable garden make it through these extreme temperature events in the best possible condition. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your garden when temperatures soar.
Strategies for Beating the Heat
We never advocate watering on schedules or with automatic timers, except for manual timers, to make sure the water turns off in your drip system at the appropriate time. It is more important than ever when the temperatures are at the extreme, that you check your garden beds regularly and water when necessary. Even with a nice layer of mulch, your plants will be using water at a greater rate when the temperatures are high. We try to check the soil in our garden beds twice a day. We don’t water except when necessary, and then we follow our practice of watering slowly and deeply. I am more interested in maintaining good soil moisture deep in the root zone than on the surface f the soil.
Some of your large leaf plants may seem to be wilting in the late afternoons, especially if they have had full sun all day. Afternoon and evening wilting are entirely normal. Plants transpire, moving water up and into the leaves. Even the most robust plant may not be able to move enough water to keep from wilting after a full day in the West Texas sun. If your plants look especially wilted, mist them with a hose in the late afternoon to cool them down and add additional moisture.
Don’t be tempted to overwater your beds just because it is hot. Many plants don’t like to be in soggy ground and putting the roots into this situation can cause as many or more problems than the heat.
There is a bit of a conundrum here. For turfgrass, we recommend not feeding during the hottest part of the summer. Turfgrasses tend to want to go dormant during the heat of the summer. Feeding them adds to the stress of the heat and can cause them to suffer additional stress.
Garden vegetables, on the other hand, are usually at the peak of their productive cycle and need all the nutrients they can get to set and ripen fruit. We try to meet this need with compost tea, but occasionally we will supplement with some fish emulsion or seaweed. If our plants are setting fruit well, I will step up my feeding schedule to once a week with compost tea. I alternate drenching the beds and applying the compost tea as a foliar spray.
Just like fruit production usually peaks during the heat, pest infestation and attacks usually increase as well. The heat induces stress to the plants, and we all know that pests and diseases target plants that are under stress. Watch your plants carefully. I try to check our garden in the morning and the later afternoon. Pests can appear quickly this time of year, and the quicker they are identified, and appropriate action is taken, the easier it is to control them. Remember that the better care you take of your soil, the stronger and less stressed your plants will be and the less susceptible to pest and disease problems.
Harvest regularly. Old fruit left on the plant or allowed to fall to the ground are magnets for pests and disease. Harvesting when fruits and vegetables are at the peak of their nutrient value is better for you and the plant. Removing fruit and vegetable when they are ripe encourages the plant to continue to set and ripen fruit.
Cull and Compost.
Some of your plants may be reaching the end of a productive life. Don’t hang on to them past their prime. Old plants that are not producing well are usually weakened and can be a haven for pests and diseases.
Cut those plants off at the soil level. Leave the roots in the soil to keep those nutrients in the soil and take the tops of the plants to the compost pile. Composting keeps the nutrients that are locked into the leaves in the cycle of your ecosystem.
Keep your beds mulched. Mulching promotes moisture retention, helps cool the soil, and protects the top layers of the soil from damage by the UV rays in the sunlight.
Keep your soil in good shape. Mulch it to protect it. Water slowly and deeply when needed. Check your plants regularly and feed them. Check for pests. Remove plants that have reached their expected lifespan. Refresh your mulch where necessary. Being vigilant will keep your garden healthy and productive through the heat of the summer and well into the fall.
Links and Resources
For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.
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