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Skaggs: Summer's heat can beat up your ornamentals
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Is it just me, or does this summer seem hotter than usual? Maybe I just cannot take the heat as well as I used to. With temperatures bumping the 100 degree mark in recent weeks, it’s been tough on those of us who like working in our landscapes and gardens.

If you think the heat is unbearable, think about your plants. They cannot retreat to the comfortable confines of an air-conditioned living room. Our ornamental plants can suffer tremendously in these high temperatures, especially if we got three or four days without rain.

However, we gardeners can help.

First, make sure plants have a generous supply of mulch over their roots. Use 3 to 4 inches of mulch to help prevent evaporation and hold moisture in the soil.

Fine-textured mulches, such as pine straw, pine bark mini-nuggets and shredded hardwood mulch, conserve moisture better than coarse-textured mulches. Mulch as large an area under the plant as you can. The roots of most woody ornamentals extend two to three times the width of the plant.

If you have annual flowers in containers, be aware they will dry out quickly when temperatures are above 90 F. You may need to water them every day. Where possible, move these containers to shady spots on the porch or patio.

Do not fertilize plants during times of drought. Fertilizers stimulate tender new growth that has a high demand for water. Also, fertilizers contain chemical salts which can dehydrate roots and make heat stress even worse.

Concentrate watering selectively on plants that show signs of moisture stress. Some plants will wilt, while others will turn blue-green. Still others will show marginal leaf scorching, or branches may die back.

Plants like dogwood, azaleas, hydrangeas, viburnums and Japanese maples are among the first trees and shrubs to show moisture stress in the landscape. So when you can water, attend to these plants first. Give priority, too, to trees and shrubs planted within the past four months.

When you can water, use a handheld hose or sprinkling can to direct water to the roots. Give the water time to soak into the soil, then water again slowly. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are other good ways to water slowly. Let the water penetrate the ground and not run off.

If possible, water between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.; watering is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. not just to conserve water during peak use. Half of the water you apply during the day evaporates. Watering at night time won’t encourage diseases, either, since the foliage is usually wet anyway from the dew.

If you know a good water-saving technique, pass it along to your neighbor. Water is a resource we can’t live without, so make every drop count.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.