Hot, Dry Weather quickly changes Our Garden Priorities, Water & Mulch!

Temperatures this week moved into the upper nineties and rain has about disappeared from weather forecasts as Oklahoma looks to have moved into the summer frame of mind.  Fortunately we still have pleasant nights and mornings with those temperatures still touching the lower seventies and giving our plant materials a chance to relax and de-stress during those cooler hours.

The hot, dry weather quickly changes our priorities in the Oklahoma garden.  Watering becomes the most important priority to care for our established plants, the plants we started earlier this spring and particularly any plants we plant now as the weather turns hot.  We lose moisture to dehydration as the bright sun and heat pull moisture from points of high concentration in the plant and the soil.  We lose moisture to hot, dry, blowing winds that visit us regularly in Oklahoma.  When there is no natural rain to replace this moisture, your trees, shrubs, vegetables, flowers and lawn become dependent on you to keep them in a healthy, growing condition.  Many plants will survive through the hot dry weather but make adjustments to stay alive.  As they stop growing they will wilt, get a grayish tone to their color and will shed leaves to reduce their “plant operations” to the available moisture.  Those things happen if you do not water sufficiently to keep them in a healthy vegetative state.  It causes great harm to most plants to get excessively dry or to go through extreme wet/dry cycles.  Watering needs vary a lot depending on your type of soil, amount of organic matter in the soil, whether the plants are in full sun, shade or partial sun.  Other factors are whether plants are planted alongside concrete walks or driveways, in front of concrete or metal walls, growing in a container or in a ground flowerbed, in the wide open or a wind protected microclimate.   Do you water by hand, drip or sprinkler and are the soil surfaces mulched or is there bare soil exposed to the sun’s heat and our blow dryer winds?

Giving your plants sufficient water keeps the plants in “go” mode, growing larger canopies, producing flowers, veggies, fruit and nuts.  Heat stress and drought is like throwing up a stop sign and causes the plant to reduce operations and growth to the available water.  Many plants will bounce back from one or several heat stresses or wilting but repeated stresses can kill or stunt plant development.  Pull or remove weeds that compete with your chosen plants for precious water resources, mulch the tops of your container gardens and flowers beds with two or three inches of bark or natural hull mulches and consider installing drip irrigation or using soaker hoses.  When you water, soak good so the water penetrates several inches down in your soil.  It is better to soak one to three times a week depending on your plants and soil type rather than to spray or squirt the plants every day.
Besides watering and weeding, this is the season to be alert for insect problems.  We usually see fewer fungus and diseases problems in the heat but we see an increase in insect problems as most insects lay many more eggs in hot weather and more often so populations can appear to explode.  Be on the lookout for aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites, bagworms, webworm and other unwanted insect challenges.  You can identify them using garden books, the internet or take a sample in a sealed plastic baggie or paper bag to your local garden center.  They can help you evaluate control choices whether you want to look at organic or chemical options.

The season finally slowed down a little so while many of your are digging potatoes and onions and preparing to pick your first squash, cucumbers and tomatoes we are finally getting to plant our tomatoes, peppers and lots of pretty flowers.  You other procrastinators can join us in planting now as long are you remember to water regularly to help these new plants get well established.

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