If your garden is looking a little wilted right now, that’s okay. In fact, it’s your plants’ natural response to the extreme temperatures the region experiences.
Dallas-Fort Worth is expected to see triple-digit temperatures through Sunday this week and a heat advisory has been issued for the area through Friday. While many green-thumbed Texans are accustomed to high temperatures, there are others who are new to the hobby and facing new problems – more than 20 million Americans have taken up gardening in the pandemic.
Here are five ways to maintain your garden in the summer heat and conserve water while you do it:
water in the morning
Experts agree and point out: water your plants in the morning so the plants can retain moisture before it is evaporated by the sun.
“It’s good to make sure you do all your watering when it’s not hot,” said Megan Proska, director of horticulture at the Dallas Arboretum. “That way it can help keep the plant looking good, but don’t panic if you start seeing sad plants.”
Wilting is a plant’s natural reaction to heat, when its roots cannot keep up with leaf transpiration at high temperatures. The process reduces the area exposed to sunlight, allowing the plant to prevent water loss, which usually occurs in the afternoon.
However, people often confuse wilting with a sign of overwatering the plant, possibly depriving its roots of oxygen, said horticulturist Patrick Dickinson.
Expert and landscaper at Rooted In, a landscaping company that partners with municipalities and residents of North Texas to encourage conservation efforts, Dickinson said the No. 1 problem he sees at this time of the year is overwatering.
“We see a lot of root rot and choked plants this time of year,” he said. “I don’t want people drowning their plants just because it’s hot.”
Adjust for dry summer
Different landscapes have different watering needs, but all need attention after the dry spring and summer.
“We’ve had some tough seasons,” said Jeff Raska, urban horticulturist at Texas A&M AgriLife. “With the major freeze the year before and this year has been a tough year for the water and a tough year with this heat coming in.”
Raska recommends watering lawns once a week with the soak and cycle method. This method waters one area for a short period of time before moving on to the next, then repeating the process again. The method ensures that the soil has time to fully absorb moisture and prevents runoff.
The soak and cycle method is also recommended once a week for landscaped beds that include trees, shrubs and perennials. Raska said he doesn’t normally water the trees, “but it’s a different summer.” To water trees, place sprinklers or use a hose around their drip lines – where their roots are – not at the trunk.
Lawns will naturally appear dry at this time of year, but they are not dying. Raska said they are just dormant and will thrive when the weather turns cold. Newly planted perennials, on the other hand, need to be watered more often this year because their root systems are not as developed.
Keep the soil moist
To prevent plants from getting too much or too little water, maintain soil moisture levels by monitoring it and using smart irrigation practices in all types of gardens and landscapes.
You can use a moisture meter, a tool planted in the ground that tells you if the soil is dry, wet, or too wet for landscaping flower beds and potted plants. If you don’t want to buy a moisture meter, check the moisture with the naked eye using a small hand shovel or by inserting a screwdriver into the soil.
“It’s the same technique as when you use a toothpick when baking a cake,” Dickinson said. “You look to see if it’s wet or not.”
Soil watering directly in gardens, as opposed to overhead watering, also keeps fungus and other diseases away from plant leaves.
The Dallas Arboretum recommends protect the garden soil from the sun to prevent evaporation using a light colored mulch or compost. The group also recommends raising the blades of lawn mowers to keep the grass taller to better shade its ground.
Drip irrigation—a system that directly waters the root zone of plants—is recommended for landscaping, as well as multiple-jet rotor sprinklers. Daniel Cunningham, co-founder of Rooted In, said overspray irrigation can cause 50-60% evaporation, while drip irrigation retains 90% of the water used.
“Higher temperatures mean more evaporation and plant transpiration. … Really, if we water deeply and infrequently, that will give our plants the best chance of success,” Cunningham said.
Monitor your potted plants
Potted plants such as vegetables and flowers should be especially monitored in the heat, as smaller containers dry out faster and require more frequent watering.
Cunningham recommends using the largest pots possible to help maintain humidity. He also suggests keeping plants native to the tropics in containers that can be easily watered separately because they might need more than the Texas natives.
“We would like to discourage people from turning on their entire sprinkler system and watering everything,” he said. Potted plants can also be brought indoors during the hottest hours of the day or moved to shady areas if they lose moisture in the afternoon.
Raska said potted plants such as vegetables can be watered twice a day and should not be pruned at this time to avoid additional stress on the plant.
Annuals such as coleus, sunpatiens, and begonias tend to wilt in dry heat, but usually recover once the weather cools. Vegetables like peppers prefer heat while tomatoes may need extra care to stay hydrated to prevent their skins from cracking.
Plan a Texas Native Plant Garden
Experts recommend that gardeners plant native Texas plants because they use less water and therefore require less maintenance.
“Most gardeners or landscapers put out plant material that holds up well in the Texas heat,” Proska said, but acknowledged that wasn’t always the case.
Popular landscaping plants such as hydrangeas and hostas use more water and fertilizer than native plants, Dickinson said, “not that I don’t like those plants too. But I know that these plants are not intended for our region.
He said excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides can also negatively impact the ecosystem and pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
A triple-digit summer
June has seen nine 100-degree days this year, seven more than the average for the month. The first three-digit day was June 11, while the average first day is July 1. National Weather Service reported Thursday that parts of Dallas County are in “severe drought” conditions on its Drought Monitor.
For gardeners, experts insisted on wearing sunscreen and long sleeves, staying well hydrated and protected from intense sunlight while gardening in the morning.
“The plants are going to look a little ragged right now, but so are we,” Raska said. “You go out in the sun all day and see how ragged you feel and look.”