I’m blessed to have an area in my yard which receives sunlight from dawn to dusk. I reserve this spot for the sun-loving vegetable plants I grow. And while my veggies enjoy the sunlight, the sweltering dog days of summer can have ill effects on both the plants and the person tending them. So how do I beat the heat and keep both myself and my plants cool?
The key to summer survival is proper hydration. For myself, this means never venturing back to the garden without a cool beverage in hand. Usually a water bottle or insulated glass filled with ice and cool tap water suffices. But on those truly scorching days, sports drinks not only offer hydration, but they replenish much-needed electrolytes.
Keeping my vegetable plants hydrated is another story. With a garden located at the back of our long, narrow property, irrigation with a hose is nearly impossible. The drop in water pressure over this distance makes sprinklers and spray nozzles unusable. Not to mention the arduous task of rolling up six hundred feet of garden hose on lawn-mowing day.
Instead, we fill and tote jugs of water in a utility trailer pulled by the lawn tractor. While this may seem like a monumental task, the truth is that I only water my garden a few times per season. How do I get by without regularly watering my garden, you may ask? Simple. I plant deep and water deep.
Deep Planting, Less Watering
When deep-planting transplants, like tomatoes and peppers, I use a bulb planting tool. I twist this as far as I can into the tilled garden soil and remove a plug of dirt. Then, I gently extract the seedling from the pack and drop it into the hole making sure that at least the top two sets of leaves will remain above the soil line.
I fill the hole halfway with water and repack the soil around the seedling. This method not only provides the transplant with plenty of water while it gets established, but also places the root ball well below the soil’s surface where moisture is less likely to evaporate. My garden has a slight grade and drains well, so root rot has never been an issue.
Unless we have a dry spell, I often don’t need to water again for several weeks. When I provide supplemental water, I deep-water each plant by slowly pouring approximately ½ gallon (1.89 L) of water around the plant’s stem. After this has soaked in, I come back around and rewater with an additional half gallon.
Cooling With Mulch
To further conserve water and keep my vegetable plants cooler, I mulch the entire garden with newspaper overlaid with several inches of grass clippings. But I’ve also found mulching keeps me cooler as well. Sunlight reflecting off of dark, damp garden soil creates a hot and humid work environment.
On the other hand, the dried grass is a light tan color. It neither reflects the heat nor releases humidity. So there you have it. My secrets for keeping myself and my garden plants happily hydrated and cool during the hottest part of the summer.