It’s summer – and for many of us, it’s hot and dry. While many plants do well in the warm weather with adequate water, hot and dry conditions can cause stress and weaknesses in even the toughest plant. Here are five ways to protect your fruit trees and other plants during the summer heat:
Mulching is probably the number one most recommended practice to protect your plants from summer stress. Trees, berry plants, gardens, and landscape plants all benefit from a layer of mulch.
Some plants that do better in acidic soil – as blueberries and azaleas – benefit from a mulch made of acidic material, such as pine bark mulch or cotton seed hulls. The acidic mulch helps keep the soil pH on the lower side, which benefits the plant’s growth.
Mulch material can be compost, composted manure, raked leaves, dried grass clippings, or any other organic material, such as bark. Materials that are not aged, like fresh sawdust or fresh grass clippings, will deplete the soil of nitrogen temporarily and negatively impact plant growth. Mulch helps soil retain moisture , and it creates cooler microenvironments at the base of the plant. Mulches have been used at various times throughout history in gardens and fields; in the 1800’s and prior, it was common for farmers to use a mulch of large stones around fruit trees and other plants.
While it’s obvious that plants need water, the watering needs of plants vary depending on humidity, soil, and other factors. Depending on the soil type, younger trees, berry plants, and other plants will need water every other day, or as infrequently as once a week. We have trees and other plants growing in sandy soil that require frequent watering – at least every other day. We have other plants in clay soil that require water only once or twice a week. If it rains and we don’t have to water, we are really thankful! And as you probably seen, rainwater does wonders for plant growth, largely due to the nitrogen and other nutrients that are naturally in the rain water.
Fruit-bearing plants in particular need plenty of water during the summer months. Water makes up a large percentage of the tissue in most fruits and vegetables. During the hot, dry summer months, supplemental watering is essential to grow quality produce. Water fruit trees and other larger plants deeply, using drip irrigation and simply letting the water flow for awhile from the water hose near the base of the tree and around the drip line of the branches. As a general rule, all plants need deep irrigation, rather than just quick passes with the water hose.
While it may not seem to fit on a list of summer care for plants, fertilizer is essential for healthy plants; healthy plants resist drought better than nutrient-deprived plants. Fertilization rates vary depending on the type of plant. If you’ve never used a soluble fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro, the summer is a pretty good time to start using it. Other fertilizers, such as those that can be sprinkled around the base of the plants, are also useful because they can be applied before the plant is watered. Younger fruit trees and berry plants can be fertilized using the same water soluble or other type of fertilizer. Even newly-planted fruit trees and berry plants can be fertilized if it appears that the plants are suffering in the summer heat. More mature fruit trees and berry plants that are bearing fruit or berries should be fertilized more sparingly to avoid harm to the fruit. Vegetable and landscape plants can be fertilized on a regular basis during the summer and throughout the growing season.
Don’t prune or plant
The summer – especially when it’s dry – is a hard time for plants. If possible, avoid pruning plants and trees and avoid planting them during the heat of summer. No plant should ebe transplanted for one place in the ground to another during the summer months. If a tree or plant has to be pruned (due to disease or to make space on a sidewalk, for instance) make sure that plant is given extra fertilizer and water after it’s been trimmed.
Plants can be transplanted from containers during the summer, but only if those transplanted plants are watered thoroughly and regularly for several weeks after planting. Plants placed to grow in the shade tend to do better than plants transplanted to full sun during the summer.
Use shade as needed
many types of young plants prefer some afternoon shade in the heat of a southern summer. Blueberries, especially younger plants, benefit from some afternoon shade in the summer. Vegetables, such as beans and most green leafy vegetables, appreciate afternoon shade at the peak of summer. The gardener can make a temporary shade over a specific growing area by using black landscape fabric supported over the plants on some temporary structure. Make sure to position the cloth so that the plant is shaded just in the afternoon. In many cases, shading plants that are showing stress during the hottest part of the day will help them thrive even in the summer heat.
Good luck and stay cool!