Whoa Nelly! Heatwaves in June? I normally don’t talk about these dry topics until mid summer but here are some tips for keeping your miniature garden, and your full-sized garden, healthy during heat waves. You may be in an area with a water ban as well so it is even more critical to conserve whatever water you can. With proper techniques and knowing what to look for, you can get the most out of your watering even in extreme temperatures.
The following tips can work for containers or for the garden bed.
1. Test: Only water if needed. Stick your finger down into the soil at least one-full-inch deep. If it is still moist or damp, you can put off the watering for a day or so. If it’s dry, then water. For smaller pots, lift them up to feel how heavy, or light, they are. Dry soil will be much lighter than moist soil.
IF you find your potted plants or garden is way to dry, consider soaking it, pot and all, in a tub of water for an hour. This will allow the roots and soil to get a good, long drink.
2. Frequency: Water your in-ground gardens deeply and infrequently. This will teach the roots of the plants to look for water on their own, and grow deeper into the soil. Watch your watering for your containers and water accordingly for the plants’ needs, not just because it is a new day.
3. Timing: Water in the early morning or at night after the sun has gone off your garden. I like watering in the evening because it cools down the garden and we can sit and enjoy the dampness – until the mosquitoes come out. The plants can recover during the cooler nighttime temperatures. “Spot-water,” meaning random acts of watering whenever it’s needed – but only if it’s an emergency and you see a plant crashing, or notice the soil it getting too dry. Otherwise, group your watering into one or two sessions a day to make it easy on yourself AND to make sure everything is getting a good drenching.
4. What to water: Water the soil, not the plant, and make sure the water gets down to the roots by waiting to see the water drain out the bottom of the pot. For in-ground gardens, get a trowel to check how-far-down your watering has penetrated for the best results.
5. What to use: Conserve water by hand watering. Sprinklers and sprays of water don’t direct the water straight to the plant’s roots where it is needed. Use a watering wand on the shower setting, and turn the tap on half-way to avoid strong, misdirected sprays of water that is just going to evaporate in the heat.
6. Corral the water: This might only work in your full-size garden: build a trough around the base of each plant to direct the water straight down to the roots. Fill up the trough with water and let it drain down a couple of times for some deep watering. This is a critical technique if your garden is planted on a hill, adjust the trough so it catches the water flowing down the hill.
For pots: You can put a saucer underneath the pot at this time of year to help corral the excess water. This will let the water soak back into the pot through the drainage holes. As long as the garden isn’t sitting in water for too long, it’s safe to keep it in the saucer. Just remove the saucer after the dry months so it can drain freely again.
7. Mulch: Mulching means to put a 2″ to 5″ layer of (usually) organic matter on top of the soil to help keep the moisture from evaporating. Organic mulch can be bark, wood chips, straw, cocoa beans, pine needles, shredded leaves, compost or cut grass. Inorganic mulch can be a variety of things like rubber chips, newspaper, or plastic. For your miniature garden, use a fine compost and keep the layer even throughout the garden bed. For pots, the fine compost works well too, but normally you wouldn’t have much bare soil in a container.
8. Cover the ground: Some of our most favorite miniature garden plants are ground covers fortunately. By covering the bare ground with plants and foliage, it will slow down the soil drying out.
9. Shade: Is your miniature garden in a container? Move it out of the full-sun into a bright shade spot, like the north or east side of the house. If the plants belong in full sun, they will be okay for a few days on the porch or under an awning until the heatwave passes. If you have new plantings in ground, use a big golf umbrella to shade them during the hottest hours. Weigh-down the handle of the umbrella so it won’t blow away!
10. Plant more: It is possible to plant during a heat wave – but only the small plants that you can temporarily shelter from the sun with an umbrella until the heat wave ends. This fall, consider planting more of your full-size garden. Big trees bring shade and cooler air, and combined with big shrubs can create a naturally cool place in your garden. Planting in fall is one of the best times to get a garden established before the heat of next summer, and you’ll use less water next year, because the fall and winter rains will help them get established in their new home.
11. Give them air: Make sure you have air circulation all around each plant and/or each pot. If the plants are planted up-against each other, those spots that are touching will die-out and you’ll have a bare spot on your tree. It’s like having a band-aid on your finger for an extended period of time; the skin (the plant’s foliage,) that doesn’t get the light and air will start to suffer.
12: Signs of over-watering: If you see the top of the soil start to get slimy and a bit green, or if you are getting those tiny little bugs flying up every time you move the foliage or water, it a sign of over-watering. It’s often said that over-watering is worst than under-watering.
12b: What is happening is the plant’s roots are not able to breathe and your creating a different environment – one almost terrarium-like – for your plants and they can’t handle that. If this is the case, stop watering. Wait for the top of the soil to dry out to damp, then get a fork to churn up the top of the soil. Poke a longer rod, at least 1/8″ in diameter, right down into the soil around each plant to help get air down into the soil. Make sure the drainage holes are allowed to drain. Check them to see if they are blocked and look into getting the pot up on pot-feet so it can drain better. If it’s sitting in a saucer, get rid of the saucer. Let the entire pot dry out to barely damp before you water again – go back to #1 and do that test before each and every watering until you and the miniature garden, are on the same page.
Water ban? When you turn on your shower, or your tap, and you are waiting for the water to get hot, collect that water in a bucket to bring out and water the garden. Better yet, plug the drain and collect your all shower water – if you take baths, use the bath water, (also called gray water.) Make a scoop by cutting out the bottom of a square milk jug or detergent container. You can also put a bucket in every sink to collect the run off every time you turn on any tap. Consider using organic soaps although I’m not sure if it does matter because this is not recommended for edible crops. You can also use the water that you boil any vegetables in too. Note that some areas have certain regulations for grey water usage.
I hope this helps you get through this extreme weather. I know that there are a lot of variable that I may have not considered because most of my experience is based on gardening in the PNW. If you have a tip for watering your garden, full-size or in miniature and live in the southern states, please help us help others by sharing it below!
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