Helping You and Your Landscape Beat the Heat this Summer
The month of June has been officially recognized as “Great Outdoors Month.” With the pleasant weather and the end of the school year, many folks will begin spending a lot more time outside this month. June is a popular time for family vacations into the “Great Outdoors” at a favorite beach or one of our beautiful National Parks. It is also a time when we find ourselves spending more time in our own “Great Outdoors,” be it working in the garden or relaxing on the patio with family and friends around the grill. During the upcoming summer months it is important to that you remember to take certain precautions to make sure that both you and your landscape emerge from the heat of the summer in good health and good spirits!
You can help keep your house cool and your energy costs low with strategic placement of plant material. Large deciduous shade trees planted on the South and West sides of your house can keep your home cool and reduce your air-conditioning expenses by as much as 50%. (By using deciduous trees, when the leaves of your trees fall off in the fall you will still get the benefit of solar heating during the winter months!) The shady area under a large tree can be up to 9 degrees cooler than the surrounding air so they can provide a welcome respite for you too as you work in the yard. It is also a good idea to use trees and shrubs to shade your outdoor air-conditioning unit, but be sure not to plant so closely that you restrict air flow to the unit. Maintaining proper air flow and shading your air conditioner will ensure that it runs as efficiently as possible.
When you are working outside in your yard be sure to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and possible heat stroke. It is best to try to plan do your outdoor work in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler, however if you plan to be outside working strenuously on a hot day, a good rule of thumb is to drink 4 to 8 ounces of water for every 15 minutes you work. Do not wait until you feel thirsty as that is an early signal that your body is ALREADY dehydrated! Stick to water and avoid sodas and alcohol as those can actually increase dehydration problems. Be sure to continue drinking fluids even after you have come back indoors for the day to replenish what you lost sweating during your work.
Like you, your plants and lawn will also require more water in the summertime. Although it is most important to make sure your plants get sufficient water whenever you can, the best time to water is in the early morning. Afternoon watering is not efficient because so much of it is lost to evaporation before it even gets to the plant, and evening watering is not encouraged because it can create an environment more favorable for diseases that can harm your turf and plants. Most turf and plant material will be fine if they receive 1” of water (rain or irrigation) every 7-10 days. It is best to water deeply on a less frequent basis to make sure that plenty of moisture is reaching the root zone. Frequent, but short watering encourages shallow root growth that is harmful to your lawn and plants over time and makes them far more likely to succumb to drought or disease in the future. Any recently installed plant material will require even more water for several weeks while the roots get established, so pay special attention to those plantings to make sure your investment does not wither away!
Other ways to help your plants through the dry summer months include making sure you have a good mulch layer or groundcover plantings to cover your beds. These will help retain soil moisture and also reduce the growth of weeds that complete with your landscape plants for precious water. Spring and fall are the best times for planting, dividing, and transplanting perennials, so if those tasks are on your to-do list, you would be best off to wait until temperatures cool and rains increase in late August and September. If you do plant now, just remember to be extra vigilant about watering. Choose plant material that is drought tolerant so that they can withstand long periods of little rainfall without requiring extra work on your part to keep them hydrated. Often native plants are most hardy because they have become adapted to our climate and weather patterns. Mow your grass at a height of no less than 3” and leave the clippings on the lawn. Unless you want to fertilize and water with the frequency of a golf course, you should not mow your personal lawn as though it was one!
One more very important tip is to protect your skin from the sun. Skin cancers are the most common form of cancer in the United States and most of these are due to sun damage and are preventable. You can get a sunburn even on a cloudy day, if you are outdoors long enough, so always wear sunscreen with at least an SPF 15 rating. When you are working outside, wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your face and neck as an extra precaution. Finally, seek the shade of a large tree or pergola over your patio from time to time to take a break; this will also help prevent heat exhaustion.
Spending time in the “Great Outdoors” is an American pastime; there is nothing like being outside on a sunny, warm summer day. Whether you are at a ball game, on a boat, or just mowing the lawn, if you follow these simple tips, you can make sure that you and your landscape beat the heat this summer. After all, you want to be sure that both you and your plants are in peak condition when it comes time for the bright colors of fall!