Protecting Your Garden from Extreme Weather

After weeks of nurturing delicate seedlings and seeing them begin to flourish, it can be heartbreaking to see your garden jeopardized by scorching heat waves, relentless rain — or no rain at all.

While it’s impossible to protect plants from everything Mother Nature throws at them, there are steps you can take to maximize their chances of surviving extreme weather. In some cases, protecting your garden can be as simple as installing shelter or fine-tuning your watering practices. There are also measures you can take before severe weather hits to increase your plants’ resiliency. 

When the heat is on

While hot weather is to be expected during the summer growing season, day after day of temperatures in the 90s and above can leave plants vulnerable to dehydration and heat stress.

Here are some strategies to protect them.

Keep your plants hydrated

During stretches like these, your approach to watering will be more important than ever. Make a point of watering your plants early in the morning to minimize evaporation and allow the water to soak deeply into the soil where your plants’ roots are. 

While monitoring soil moisture levels is always important, checking it will be even more important during excessive heat. You can feel the soil about six to eight inches below the surface to see if it’s dry or use a moisture meter.

Complement your watering with good soil management. If you add organic matter like compost to your soil, you’ll enhance its ability to retain water. In addition to providing organic matter, try applying a thin layer of mulch around your plants. The mulch helps soil retain moisture, too, and it will keep your plants’ roots cooler. 

Provide a break from the sun

Even well-hydrated plants can be damaged by constant exposure to intense sunlight and heat. Depending on your plants’ direct sunlight needs and your garden environment, you might be able to arrange your garden strategically so larger plants or trees provide natural shade for smaller, more vulnerable ones. Another option is to install temporary shade clothes over your garden during the hottest parts of the day.

Choose wisely

One measure you can take before you even plant is to select heat-tolerant plants. Vegetables like sweet potatoes, pepper, and eggplants, for example, are known for handling heat well. And if you select native plants, they’ll be more adapted to the conditions—including extreme heat—common in your region.

Protecting your plants during dry spells

So, what if Mother Nature is holding back something your plants need? What if you’re experiencing drought conditions?

Many of the tips we suggested for excessive heat will help, but there are a few additional steps you can take to keep your plants healthy when you’re not getting enough rain.

Aim for drought-resistant plants

We mentioned the benefits of aiming for local, heat-tolerant plants to endure excessive temperatures. If drought is a possibility in your region, research plants that are drought-resistant or native to arid environments. Examples include some varieties of tomatoes, peppers, Swiss chard, beans, squash and zucchini, eggplant, okra, sweet potatoes, and garlic. For your flowers, perennials (which return for years) can survive with minimal watering once they’re established, unlike annuals (which last one year).

Focus on water conservation

When it’s not raining, the more efficiently you irrigate the better. One proactive measure you can take in this area is to group your plants by their water needs. If you arrange plants with similar water needs together, you’ll be able to prevent overwatering some while underwatering others. Also, consider drip irrigation. It delivers water directly to your plants’ roots, minimizing waste and evaporation.

Engage in strategic maintenance

If it’s not raining, make it a priority to control weeds so your plants don’t have to compete with them for water resources.

A period of drought is not necessarily a good time to fertilize, though. By encouraging plant growth, fertilizers indirectly increase plants’ water needs. If fertilizing is necessary, a low-nitrogen, slow-release formula is a good choice because it provides gradual nutrient release without causing sudden growth spurts.

When the rain won’t stop

Sometimes the problem isn’t drought; it’s too much rain. This can leave soil waterlogged, depriving plants of the oxygen they need and making them vulnerable to fungal diseases; nutrient leaching, when the heavy rainfall washes away essential nutrients from the soil; compacted soil, making it harder for roots to grow; and increasing pests like slugs and snails, which thrive in moist environments.

Improve drainage

If excessive rain is a possibility where you are, consider raised beds to enhance your garden’s drainage and prevent waterlogging. 

Organic materials’ ability to improve soil structure will be helpful during wet weather, too, because they will increase soil’s ability to drain excess water and help it retain nutrients.

Another option, especially if your garden is in the ground, is to install drainage systems to help redirect excess water.

Adjust your watering

We mentioned the importance of monitoring soil for dryness. Checking the soil also helps you avoid overwatering. Don’t irrigate if feeling the soil, or a moisture meter, tells you it’s still moist.

Don’t over-mulch

Mulch does help soil return water during dry periods but apply too much and it could start retaining excessive water. Use a lighter layer of mulch during rainy seasons.

Supplement nutrients

If you suspect that excessive rain has washed away soil nutrients, use a fertilizer suitable for your particular plants to replace them.

When you have a mixed bag

What if you live in a region that experiences more than one type of extreme weather? That’s certainly the case where we are in Texas. It’s not unheard of to get excessive rain in the spring followed by intense heat and drought conditions in the summer.

If you can relate, there are steps you can take to protect your plants, too.

Choose multi-tolerant plants: Research plants for your region that can tolerate both wet and dry conditions. Examples include daylilies, sedums, and switchgrass. And remember, native plants, adapted to all the challenging conditions in your region, will be your best bets.

Improve your soil structure: Whatever you’re dealing with weather-wise, enhancing your soil with plenty of organic matter will help. It will increase drainage during wet seasons and moisture retention during dry spells.

Practice water management techniques: Think about installing rain barrels to collect rainwater during the wet season. Not only will you be conserving water, but you’ll also have a water source during droughts.

Make seasonal adjustments: Adapt your gardening practices based on the season. Focus on drainage and disease prevention during wet months and water conservation and heat protection during dry months.

Monitor and adjust: Check the health of your plants and the condition of your soil frequently. That will help you catch potential issues early and take steps to address them.

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