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    Keeping your garden cool and fresh becomes even more important as those balmy spring temperatures rise to summer highs. Water is key, whether you’re growing flowers or hoping to reap a harvest of summer vegetables. And, while the serious drought conditions many parts of the country experienced just a few years back have receded, water conservation remains a serious concern.

    So, how do you protect your garden from summer heat and make use of the water efficiently?

    Soil. Heat stresses plants, making them vulnerable to pests and diseases. In addition to hydration, keeping your soil aerated and rich with nutrients found in organic fertilizer will keep plants strong and make them more resistant.

    Composting is another way to keep plants hydrated and your soil rich in nutrients. Composting is particularly good for flowering and fruit-bearing plants. If you don’t want to make your own compost, most lawn and garden stores carry it. Again, go organic whenever you can.

    Ground cover. Two to three inches of mulch, bark, wheat straw, stones, or gravel spread around the base of plants in beds or pots holds in moisture longer and keeps precious roots cool.

    You can also make your own shade. Between 11am and 3pm, when the heat is most intense, use old bed sheets, tarps, beach umbrellas, or shade nets specially designed for the purpose of shielding vulnerable flowers and vegetables.

    Irrigation. Water your garden regularly — two to three times per week at a minimum, and more when the thermometer reaches the 90’s and above. Potted plants should be watered daily.

    If you live in a dry climate, it’s best to water early in the morning leaving enough time for the water to saturate the soil and avoid evaporation. If you live in a more humid area you’ll want to water at night after the sun has set.

    Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation to make watering easier. This method saves time and uses water more efficiently by targeting roots. You can also cool down your garden more effectively during a long stretch of hot weather. While you want to soak plants, you don’t want to over water. For example, water left on plant leaves overnight can sometimes cause mildew.

    More gardening tips to keep in mind:

    • Be sure to read packages closely when planting seeds. Make sure you’re giving flowers and vegetables the amount of sunlight or shade they need.
    • Deadheading flowers regularly will help keep them re-blooming all summer long.
    • Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons, and squash flourish and are more flavorful in temps of 80 to 90 degrees.
    • If large leaf plants like melons, cucumbers, and squash — which don’t mind the heat — show signs of wilting, your vegetable garden is not getting enough water.
    • Shade nets are ideal for cool weather vegetables that have a low tolerance for heat. These include broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, spinach, peas, kohlrabi, and radishes.
    • Shade nets also keep away birds and can better protect lettuce and other cool-weather crops.
    • Keep particularly sensitive plants in moist, cool containers that you can move easily out of the sun
    • Annuals grown in pots must be watered everyday and should be fertilized regularly, as watering can leach much needed nutrients from the soil.
    • Perennials that bloom in mid to late summer are hardier and can better stand the heat compared with those which bloom in the spring.
    • Use a rain barrel to collect water and save on your water bill

    Lastly, getting up early or going out after dinner to water your garden will not only ensure a more beautiful and flavorful garden. It will also help keep you cool during those long hot summer days.

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