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While plants require sunlight to thrive, there can be too much of a good thing. Extreme heat—defined as temperatures exceeding 86 degrees F (30 C)—is considered an abiotic stressor for your plant and can have severe consequences, including death. You might not be able to control the weather, but you can set your plants up for success before, during, and after a heat wave.
What Extreme Heat Does to Your Plants
Heat waves impact all types of plants, but they are especially detrimental to fruits and vegetables. If your garden experiences a heat wave, you might notice:
- Withering flower buds
- Drooping leaves
- White or brown leaves due to a decrease in chlorophyll
- Roots that stop growing
- Plant death
If these possibilities sound scary to you, you’re not alone. You might not be able to control the weather, but you can impact the outcome of a heatwave on your plants by properly caring for your plants before, during, and after extreme heat.
How to Care for Your Plants During Extreme Heat
When possible, it’s best to prepare your plants for a heat wave before it begins.
- Consider your areas heat zone. Did you know that you can predict the number of days each year you can expect your area to be in what’s considered a heat wave? Get a better understanding of what to expect by looking at the Plant Heat-Zone Map provided by the American Horticultural Society and learning which of the 12 zones your area falls into. Plants are rated by USDA hardiness zones, so you can research ahead of time what kind of vegetation thrives in your area—and what doesn’t.
- Keep your plants as healthy as possible. This is important no matter what the weather, but healthy plants are able to better defend against abiotic and biotic stressors than those that lack irrigation or essential nutrients. Ensure your plant’s soil drains well and provides your plant’s roots with sufficient nutrients. Also, make sure the roots aren’t too close to the surface of the soil, as roots can burn if exposed to too much sunlight.
Even with preparation, your plants still need extra care during a heat wave. There are a few ways you can keep them as safe as possible while battling the elements:
- Mulch. If your leaves aren’t providing enough shade for the soil, you can combat some of the sunshine by adding a layer of mulch to help keep it cool.
- Water in the morning. The soil dries out quicker during a heat wave than when the temperatures are more moderate. Give your plants a long soaking early in the morning to ensure the entire root zone is moist. Don’t water in the middle of the day, as the quick evaporation of water may cause burning.
- Provide shade. If your plants are in the sunniest part of your yard, consider bringing shade to them. Set up beach umbrellas, shade clothes, or even old sheets to keep leaves out of the direct sunlight.
- Move planters to the shade. If you can move your plants, relocate them to a shady spot until the heat wave is over. You can move them to a tree line, under your deck, or in the garage. Be careful about bringing them inside, as the chilly temperature shock can do more harm than good.
Now that the heat wave is over, what should you do to get your plants back in tip-top shape again? There are a few steps you can take:
- Offer your plants a long soak. How is the soil looking? If it’s dry and crumbly, it’s time to give your plants a good, long soak. Check a few inches down into the soil over the next few days to see when the roots have adequate moisture, then resume your normal watering schedule.
- Give your plants time. Oftentimes, time heals plants impacted by heat waves. Expect your plants to bounce back in a few days or a week. If they still haven’t bounced back, consider other possible causes of issues.
Unfortunately, not all plants can survive a heatwave. Be prepared to say goodbye to cool-weather crops despite your best efforts, and consider more heat-tolerant varieties in the future.
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