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I Love Gardening More than I Hate the Heat. Five Ways to Survive Late Summer Heat

I Love Gardening More than I Hate the Heat. Five Ways to Survive Late Summer Heat

I am blogging because I am too hot to garden.

It’s not even that hot - it was 82 degrees when I quit at 11 AM. I hate the heat. It makes me miserable and if I get too hot it can exhaust me for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, the garden needs me in August. Weeds go crazy, June bloomers look tired and sloppy, long season bloomers need to be deadheaded, and tall plants need some support.

I have survived many Augusts in the garden, and I have come up with several ways to make it easier.

1. Avoid the heat. Don’t work in the hottest spots.

  • Garden early. It’s much cooler, so I usually start as soon as I wake up. The temperature is cooler and the sun’s angle is much kinder.

  • Rain is your friend. Your neighbors will think you’re crazy and you will get muddy, but gardening during summer showers is quite pleasant. I don’t garden when the winds or lightening are scary, but I don’t let the rain stop me. The ground is much cooler after it rains, too.

  • Follow the shade. There is always some shade somewhere in the garden, and when the shade moves, I move even if I am not finished. It’s never finished anyway.

My back garden has plenty of shade throughout the day. I have huge trees, so every part is shady at some point. The lawn gets no attention at all (not even mowing). It’s not green velvet, but it is better for the environment the ultimate in low maintenance.

My back garden has plenty of shade throughout the day. I have huge trees, so every part is shady at some point. The lawn gets no attention at all (not even mowing). It’s not green velvet, but it is better for the environment the ultimate in low maintenance.

2. Dress for heat. This sounds obvious, but not everyone does it.

  • Light colored clothes. This makes a huge difference in the sun - I always wear a light colored top because the sun bakes my back as I hunch over.

  • Hats protect you from the sun, but I find they make my head too hot. Visors are better, and woven hats with aeration help a lot too. Baseball hats are the worst.

  • Cover your skin. This is counter-intuitive, but I often wear long sleeved shirts because they protect my skin from the heat and sun. I wear SPF shirts in light colors, and sometimes I get them wet.

  • Cool shoes - Crocs or sturdy sandals. My feet get dirty, but it feels so good to hose them down.

3. Use water. Cold water and evaporation can work wonders.

  • Pre-cool. Sometimes I take a cool shower before I start. It definitely increases the amount of time I can tolerate.

  • Wet clothes. It feels weird at first, but it helps enormously. As long as the temperature is less than 98.6, the water will be cooler than your body, and if it’s not too humid, the evaporation will keep you cool.

  • Hose down. Running the hose over your head makes a huge difference, and you can soak your clothes. You won’t look gorgeous, but you will be cooler (and cleaner!)

  • Wear an ice vest. I wear one during hot afternoons. The vest holds icepacks around your body. You can find them on Amazon.

  • Misters. These attach to your hose and create a cool mist for evaporative cooling. These are best on low humidity days where you are staying in one area.

4. Design for August.

  • Structure is your friend. Every plant is more or less full size in August. If you are happy with the layout, scale, and proportion of your garden, the weeds will be less of an eyesore. The structure given by defined lines and negative space can contain a lot of sloppiness.

  • Big August blooms. They distract from the weeds: most weeds are grassy or spiky and early perennials are diminishing, so fresh large leaves and flowers will make them look insignificant. My favorite August perennial is hardy hibiscus, which you can see from half a block away.

  • Scented plants. Many scented plants release their perfume when it’s hot. Moon flowers and nicotiana are great examples. Intoxicating plants make the mess more forgivable.

  • Heat tolerant bedding and tropicals. This is the only time of year that I love petunias. Castor beans, dahlias, canna, caladium, and sunflowers are great plants that pay off in August.

  • Plant fall blooming perennials. Even though they bloom later, their foliage usually looks fresh and robust in August. Perennials that bloom earlier often look lousy in August.

Verbena bonariensis is a late blooming treat for gardeners and butterflies. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ aren’t in bloom, but the foliage and buds look fresh all summer.

Verbena bonariensis is a late blooming treat for gardeners and butterflies. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ aren’t in bloom, but the foliage and buds look fresh all summer.

Bold flowers and foliage.

Bold flowers and foliage.

Tropical caladium grow slowly in cooler weather and explode when it gets hot.

Tropical caladium grow slowly in cooler weather and explode when it gets hot.

5. Simplify maintenance.

  • Decide what to do before you start. I look at an area and figure out the bare minimum upkeep that I can get away with.

  • No fussy weeding. I remove everything that is huge. I often cut them to the ground because pulling them out is too exhausting. It’s a lot less work, even though it doesn’t solve the problem, it looks better and it stops them from seeding.

  • If in doubt, cut it back. I don’t agonize about dead-heading because it takes too long (and it’s much more of an problem in full sun). I cut down anything that is flopping into the walkway.

  • Sit down. I bring a light plastic stool and sit down whenever possible.

These five principles haven’t made hot days perfect, but they are tolerable. I still don’t like the heat, but at least heat waves don’t completely ruin gardening for me.





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