A few summers ago, I didn’t have one of my pole beans bloom, which was strange because they’re usually one of the most dependable things to grow. I realized that it was simply too hot. Temperatures above 90°F slow down plant growth and temperatures above 104°F put plants under serious heat stress. A plant under stress doesn’t waste energy blooming—it’s in survival mode. Once the heat wave was over, the flowers on my beans appeared.
Record-high temperatures can take a toll on gardens, even if you properly watered your plants during the heat wave. This is especially true for heat-tolerant and sun-loving plants, like tomatoes and watermelons.
Your garden is like your baby. You’ve put in all the hard work, and now it’s time to see it grow. But sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. Your plants might get sick, or they might not grow as tall as you wanted them to. It’s important to remember that even though it might be difficult, you can’t give up on your garden. You can bring your plants back to life with a little effort and some tender loving care. Here’s how:
Give Container Plants A Good Soaking
Plants must have been cared for in pots or window boxes since they are more vulnerable. Slowly lower small pots into a large bucket of cold water. There will be a lot of bubbles coming from the pot at first, but as the soil saturates with water, they will lessen. Once the pot feels heavy, take it out of the bucket and let it drain fully. Water large containers and planters slowly until water runs out of the drainage holes.
After soaking your container plants, place them in a shady location until they look revived. For containers too large to be moved, create temporary shade protection by positioning an umbrella over them or putting a deck chair covered with a beach towel in front of them.
Water And Watch Your Veggies
If you water your garden during the heat wave, chances are that most plants will have survived. However, they may not look their best. First, assess which plants are completely shriveled up, dried, or collapsing – these are dead. Then, water all the plants that are not dead slowly and deeply. The lower nighttime temperatures will help them recover.
When cutting off leaves that don’t look right, go easy on the plant. Curled or cupped leaves on corn and tomatoes are the plant’s way of protecting itself from heat exposure and minimizing moisture loss. Squash and other plants with large leaves have a different mechanism to deal with heat- their edges dry up, but the leaf stays functional. If you strip a plant of those leaves, it won’t be able to perform photosynthesis as well.
You’re giving them a competitive edge by weeding your garden and mulching around your plants. Weeds compete with your plants for water and nutrients, so pulling them gives your plants a head start. Mulching also helps conserve soil moisture and keeps the soil cooler, giving your plants an advantage.
Rescue Any Edibles
Lettuce and other leafy greens, as well as herbs such as cilantro, can go into survival mode and develop a tall seed stalk in hot weather. This process, called bolting, makes the lettuce taste bitter. If that happens, harvest the lettuce immediately and taste it; it might still be palatable. If it is only faintly bitter, you can try masking it with a salad dressing.
Heat waves can cause a lot of damage to your garden crops, not just by wilting them. Sunscalded is an issue when the fruit or vegetable is exposed to too much sun, and the side facing the sun is damaged. This damage can manifest in a few ways:
- Discoloration (white or yellow)
- A soft or watery sunken area
- Blisters on the skin
- A hardened and dried area
If you see any of these signs on your crops, it’s important to pick them up immediately. The damaged surface is an entryway for pests and diseases, and if it’s only a small area of the crop, you can cut out the damage and still use it immediately.
Back Off On Fertilizing And Applying Chemicals
The best way to help your plants recover from a heat wave is to give them time to rest, avoiding fertilization until the plant is no longer in survival mode. Extra nutrients can stress the plant out more at this time, so it’s best to wait at least a week before feeding it. It would help if you also waited for the plant to recover from the heat before applying chemicals to control pests and diseases. Many products (including organic ones) can damage plants when temperatures are consistently above 80°F, so check the label before spraying anything.
Plan For The Next Heat Wave
If your plants didn’t make it through the heat wave, don’t fret! Use this as an opportunity to learn and adjust your gardening and landscaping to prevent such losses in the future. For example, if your lettuce got scorched in the hot sun, try planting taller plants such as tomatoes to cast shade on it during the hot afternoon hours. Special shade cloth can shield plants from the sun’s harsh rays.
It might be time to rethink your lawn. If your vegetable patch is surrounded by turfgrass, consider converting at least part of your lawn and replacing it with native plants. Native plants don’t need to be mowed, can create a buffer, withstand extreme heat better, and provide a habitat for pollinating insects. A manicured lawn can act as a mirror, reflecting heat to surrounding plants, whereas native plants absorb and deflect that heat.