Okanagan hot summers and relentless heat waves pose challenges to gardeners and their plants as everything dries out faster. Flowers and vegetables, whether in a garden or in containers, young trees and shrubs, and lawns from small urban yards to large suburban spreads, everything suffers in the heat. The good news is that there are many ways to keep your summer garden happy and hydrated.

Even the most established plants in a garden appreciate a deep soaking before a heatwave. To promote continued healthy growth and help plants cope with the stress of summer diseases and insects, it is important to maintain a relative steady supply of moisture to the soil.

Whether to water early in the morning or in the evening is a personal choice. Watering in the morning before the heat of the day sets in has the disadvantage of evaporation. Watering in the evening, keeping things moist and cool during the night may encourage fungal diseases. Layers of coarse mulch can greatly aid in retaining moisture in the soil as well as keeping the amount of needed water to a minimum. Brown leaf edges and / or yellow leaves can signal over-watering. Make sure you’re checking before adding more. 

Deep Watering
Plants benefit much more from a slow and deep watering than a quick splash. Make sure you’re watering deep enough to reach the root ball. Deep watering entails watering with a watering wand, soaker hose or sprinkler at a slow pace for long enough that the water soaks deep into the soil, where the roots are. Often this means watering for 30-60 minutes at a time, 2-3 times each week, until plants are established. When temperatures normalize, continue with deep watering, but back off to 1-2 times each week.

New Plantings
The highest priority for watering during a heatwave are new plantings. Times of excessive heat put new plants that have not rooted completely at greater risk of drying out. Hand water new plantings deeply at their base, using a watering wand for best results. Avoid the use of drip lines as they are inadequate for watering during the initial planting season.

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Mulching does not only protect plants by enhancing soil structure and fertility but it also helps with the conservation of moisture by increasing water infiltration and slowing of evaporation. Spread several inches of mulch in the garden and around young trees and shrubs. This helps to insulate the soil, keeping roots from getting too hot and dry. Set your hose to trickle slowly at the base of young trees and shrubs every few days during hot dry weather, to thoroughly soak their roots.

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Any plants – flowers, herbs or vegetables – growing in containers will dry out faster than plants that are growing in the ground, and during a heatwave they may need watering more than once each day. It can help to move smaller containers into shaded areas just for the duration of the hot weather. Hanging baskets can be helped by placing them on the ground. Annuals planted in containers or hanging baskets lose a lot of their nutrients when they’re watered this often, so it’s a good idea to fertilize after the heatwave is over.

The frequency of watering depends on both on the size of a container and what is growing in it. But frequent watering poses a problem, too: It leaches nutrients through the soil. Time release fertilizer pellets dissolved in water and applied every week or two will help to keep plants in shape. To prevent the burning of roots, don’t fertilize when the soil is dry.

Tree Bags
For short periods of time, tree bags are fine to be used for newly planted trees. They should be removed between waterings to avoid causing rot at the base of the tree’s trunk. Tree bags are not effective for watering mature trees, because their roots extend far beyond the trunk.

Veggies & Fruits
Vegetables and fruits that are developing fruit during a heat spell need regular daily watering to ensure good production. When temperatures are extremely high, vegetables may need a second watering. Focus on maintaining constant moisture levels. Mulch around vegetable and fruit plants in the garden. Water deeply, but don’t wait until the soil is bone dry to water again. Avoid getting the leaves, fruits, or vegetables wet to help prevent diseases that thrive on moisture, like powdery mildew.

During extreme heat, water lawns thoroughly and more frequently once a week and don’t cut it as short as golf turf. This encourage deeper root growth and healthier grass. Don’t fertilize the lawn or spray herbicides when temperatures are high. The potential for damaging the lawn is too great. Hold off fertilizing until fall when nights are longer and temperatures moderate. If you must get rid of weeds this time of year, dig them out manually.

The Okanagan has less water available per person. Let’s find better ways to keep it flowing