Don’t Forget Water For The Birds And Beasties
This morning I got a text from my local NIXLE emergency notification system warning of approaching high temperatures. Since records were kept, temps have only hit 100 degrees F three times so far, but this week could see a fourth. Weather mavens are calling for a significant heat wave to sweep the maritime Northwest this week. Since we’re in a prolonged dry spell anyway (40 days without measurable rain so far), no doubt we’ve all been watering gardens is not lawns to keep our plants alive. However, record high heat can be very hard on plants and people as well as birds, critters, and even insects. Happily, with a little forethought, we can make a positive difference to those in each category.
While we’re outside helping plants and critters stay alive, it’s important to keep our own cool. Cover your head with a wet bandanna before putting on your broad-brimmed sunhat and your noggin will stay pleasantly cool for about an hour. Wrap crushed ice in a bandanna and tie it around your neck for even longer relief. When I did a lot of gardening for others, I’d keep an ice cooler in my car with zip bags of gloves, socks, and shirts so I could change into cool, dry clothing every few hours. (This works great at the beach too.) After you shower, hang your damp towel on a drying rack and let it cool off the air in an overly hot room as it dries. A wet sheet draped in front of a fan can do the same thing on a larger scale. At night, fill your hot water bottle with crushed ice and snuggle with it for a chilling experience. Tuck it down by your feet to keep them cool all night.
It Starts With Water
To keep birds, critters, and insects hydrated, keep bird baths full and change water out daily. Even if you’ve got your garden on a drip system, use an overhead sprinkler for at least a few minutes each morning to rinse off foliage and keep the dust down. The birds and bees will be delighted with the spray, which will quickly dry off when it’s seriously hot, so you don’t need to worry about creating conditions for mildew. And it’s wise to adjust your expectations; when temperatures soar, many plants will show clear signs of stress, some will go dormant and some will flat-out die. Water may well help struggling plants, but please don’t go overboard–too much can do as much harm as not enough. Plants that have gone dormant will return when they sense it is safe (probably when the autumn rains arrive). Water dormant plants now and they may well drown, since dormant plants can’t handle lots of water.
Then It’s All About Soil And Mulch
Most mature trees and shrubs will do fine, since well established plants can take drought and heat in stride. Plants that are not well established need care, but again, not too much too fast. In the long term, the best thing we can do for our plants is to heal and replenish the soil. One reason I keep talking about compost is that it holds water like a sponge. Soils with plenty of humus don’t dry out as fast, and they absorb water better when they do dry out. Once rehydrated, many plants will be convalescent. DO NOT feed them; this is like giving a giant steak dinner to a chemo patient. Instead, help them build up better root systems by feeding the soil they grow in.
Personally, when droughts arrive, I focus on keeping annual edibles alive. In addition, anything recently planted will need significant watering to stay alive. When temperatures hit the 80’s, plants with immature or compromised root systems may need five gallons of water a day. That takes quite a while, so either treat it as a water meditation and be super patient or run a low, slow hose for a good 15 minutes per plant (use a timer). Similarly, hanging baskets and color bowls that are in full sun might need to be watered both morning and night. In their case, though, a little hit of fertilizer will be in order, since so much water will definitely wash whatever food they had away. Always feed container plantings after watering to avoid burning tender roots!
Cool Treats For A Sizzling Summer
And of course, eating well is an important part of staying cool. I cook early in the morning (if at all) and focus on salads and fruit with yogurt during the day. Refreshingly tart-sweet, rich and creamy tasting, this vegan treat is a delightful palate cleanser between courses when friends gather for a summery banquet. It’s also yummy as a quick pick-me-up on a steamy afternoon. Freeze individual servings in small dishes or make an Avocado Ring With Raspberries & Blueberries: pack a whole batch into a bundt form and freeze, invert onto a serving dish, then fill the center with raspberries and blueberries and garnish with mint sprigs for a very pretty party dessert.
Vegan Avocado Ice
1 cup water
1/2 cup cane sugar
2 ripe avocados, peeled and chopped
2 organic limes, juiced, rind grated
pinch of sea salt
Boil water and sugar until sugar is completely dissolved, let cool to room temperature. Mash avocados with 2-3 tablespoons lime juice, a teaspoon of grated zest, and salt, add cooled syrup and blend very well (stir in more lime juice if desired). Freeze in an ice cream freezer and serve or pack into a glass container with a tight lid and freeze for up to three days. Makes about 3-1/2 cups.