Help Yourself, Help Your Plants and Help Us…. Beat the Heat

Oh yes, summer gardening in the South….not exactly for the faint of heart. It’s hotter than you know what, it never rains and if that’s not bad enough, just add mosquitos!

Did I mention the heat? So far in the 22 days of June, the high has been in the 90’s and 100’s for 17 of those days. The other 5 days…..89!

So I exaggerate when I say it never rains? Well technically “never” isn’t the right word, but it seems like never. From May 1, 2011, through June 22, 2011, we have received 1.67 inches of rain in Charleston. The average for that time period is 7.73 inches…a deficit of about 6 inches! That’s a lot of making up to do.

So that’s where we swoop in and save the day for our gardens right? Well there are some tips and techniques to follow to help your plants handle the heat, but before you can do that, you must prepare yourself for the heat.

– Keep hydrated…..drink plenty of water. It’s OK for your plants to wilt a litle bit, but not OK for you!

– Get in the garden early and get out early…..the snooze button isn’t worth it. Get out in the garden early and get the work done!

– Wear the proper clothing to protect yourself against the sun and the bugs…..sunburn and skeeter bites = no fun.

For more tips, check out this recent blog post: Keep Safe in the Garden | Charleston Parks Conservancy.

Now, onto some tips for helping your plants survive in this brutal heat:

– First and foremost, plants must have water to survive.
– A deep, thorough watering once every few days is good for established trees, shrubs and perennials.
– Vegetable gardens, newly planted annuals and perennials and container gardens that reside in full sun locations need water everyday to thrive and stay alive. Xeric plants (succulents, cacti, etc.) are the exception. Know your plants and their water needs.
– Remember it’s better to do a long, thorough watering once every few days rather that a “spritzing” here and there a couple times everyday. Plants wilt, that’s what they do. It’s a defense mechanism for them and it’s OK to see afternoon wilt occur. As long as you are providing them enough water to recover from the wilt and not allowing them to crash on a daily basis.

Since we have so many wonderful blooming gardens in our parks all around the city that need these all important waterings every few days, we just so happen to have a way for you as a Park Angel to get involved and make a difference.

We started a watering program as a way for you to get involved by volunteering some time to water gardens in different parks around town. It’s a great way for you to get out in the parks and hydrate the plants to ensure the gardens look their best all Summer long. It’s also a way for you to find some outdoor relaxation time. Whether you prefer listening to nature or listening to your iPod, this program can provide you with some quality “me time.”

For more information on how to get involved with our summer watering program, see Our Plants are Thirsty and You Can Help | Charleston Parks Conservancy.

*Another important tip for helping your plants through this early summer heat is to summer prune. Many plants are just looking plain tired right now. They’re really not into that blooming thing, they’re just trying to conserve moisture to just stay alive. Pruning this time of year helps by reducing the size of the plants under stress thus reducing the water quantity needed to keep the entire plant alive.

For much more on summer pruning including a list of plants suitable for summer pruning, check out this past blog post: Time to Summer Prune | Charleston Parks Conservancy

*Another tip is to watch out for insects. When plants are stressed, insects know it. They will find the unhappy plants and make them suffer even more. Searching for and finding these insects that cause damage to plants before they become an infestation will make control of the insects much easier. Daily dousings of water and pruning off insect-filled stems and leaves are two good ways to remove the insects from the plants.

*A final tip to remember to help your plants through the heat is to use mulch. Mulch is used for many reasons, one being for soil moisture retention. Mulch acts as a barrier, helping keep moisture in the soil while shading and protecting plant roots from the strong rays of direct sunlight. Mulch can be all sorts of materials, such as traditional shredded wood and bark or pine straw. It can also be something as simple as grass clippings, shredded leaves or just live oak leaves collected from neighborhood trees.

Just bags of leaves found on the side of the road to be thrown away make an excellent mulch that helps retain moisture in the soil, is easy to spread, and the price…… you can’t beat it! You know what they say, “One person’s trash…”

So good luck this summer and follow these tips and share some more gardening tips of your own to get us through these summer months. ‘Cause as we all know, it has only just begun.

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