By Sean Conway

Here Comes the Sun: Don't Let Summer Heat Deter You from Gardening

The best tip for keeping cool while gardening in the dog days of summer: Work early in the morning or late in the day

The heat of midsummer is what separates hard-core gardeners from what I call the "polka dot glove set."

The latter comprises those gardeners who spend as much time getting dressed for the garden as they do actually gardening. They don their color-coordinated gloves, garden shoes, hats and plastic-handled trowels, and hesitantly approach their gardens as if they are walking into a surgical post-op room where one false move could spell disaster.

The polka dot glove set loves to garden on mild spring days but not so much in the blistering sun. And, in a way, who can blame them? Just ask my teenage son.

He has a summer job working in a very large garden with sweeps of perennials, grasses, and island beds of shrubs -- and very little shade. It is his first real job and, being a teenager, he wanted no advice from Dear Old Dad! After a few eight-hour days weeding and planting in the hot spotlight of el sol, my son -- the same one who didn't want to wear a hat or bring a jug of ice water -- was ready to move to Alaska!

Gardening during the heat of summer can be grueling, but it needn't be. With a little common sense and some planning, midsummer gardening can be easy on you while giving your garden the attention it continues to need.

As my son has figured out, timing in the garden is everything. Any longtime gardener will tell you that the best time to get real work done in the garden is either early morning, before the sun is too high in the sky, or late in the day when it is going down.

Plants, like people, prefer moderate temperatures. If the heat is uncomfortable for you, more often than not your plants are stressed as well.

Stressed plants are more prone to disease and insect damage, so reducing environmental stresses will keep your garden healthy and more productive.

During hot spells, water early enough during the day so that leaves have a chance to dry before the heat sets in. Fungal diseases are prone to attack and will spread rapidly on wet or damp foliage (think mold in a damp bathroom). If possible, water at the root level rather than spraying the whole plant with water. Not only is this method better for the plant, it is more efficient.

Soaker hoses on timers are excellent for large gardens. If you need to water a single specimen such as a newly planted tree, place a hose at the base and let the water trickle out for 15 to 20 minutes. The water will soak into the area around the root zone rather than just run off.

I prefer not to use insecticides in my garden, as they kill beneficial insects as well. If you do use them, be sure to apply them in the early morning or late in the day. Many insecticides will burn the leaves of plants if applied in hot sun.

The one job that is most efficient in the hot sun is weeding. I always try to weed my gardens in late morning, as the sun is getting stronger.

If you don't allow your weeds to grow past the seedling stage, scratching the ground with a hand tool or hoe is enough to expose them to the hot withering sun, killing them quickly. When the soil is dry I leave withered weeds to decompose back into the soil.

Avoid weeding when your soil is wet. Weeds are adept at re-rooting, and weeding after a rain often means having to weed twice if you don't discard all the pulled plants.

Gardening during the heat of summer needn't be torture -- unless you are wearing polka dot gardening gloves with a matching hat. In which case you deserve to suffer.


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