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I can’t believe this heat already! I was hopeful that this summer was not going to be a repeat of last summer, but it looks like we are on track for some serious heat this summer. Some vegetables will surely respond to temperatures in the 90s; some will be good and some will be bad. I know we can’t change the ambient air temperature on a 90 degree day but we can provide some shade for our plants on the hottest days of the summer with reasonable results.
The vegetable garden can start doing some funny things during a heat wave. When temperatures start to raise into the upper 80s and 90s, many vegetables drop flowers before pollination and fruit set and stop blooming. Beans, tomatoes and eggplant do like it hot, but there is a threshold of tolerance to heat; ideal temperatures for maximum performance is about 86 during the day for these summer vegetables.
The heat will also make other crops bolt and become bitter. Spinach, peas, and cole crops like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower prefer the cool temperatures of spring and fall and make haste to flower and go to seed when temperatures rise. The current weather may do them in for the season.
Tender lettuces will bolt, too. My second round of summer lettuces is just coming in. The summer lettuces can stand some heat, but will last longer if I alleviate some of the stress.
The fruit of some crops can get sun burned, as well, when temperatures are high. Sunscald is common on ripening tomatoes, especially if the plant is a little diseased and the foliage isn’t adequately shading the fruit on its own. Think about all the crops that tuck themselves beneath the foliage of the plant—all of these will get sunburned if left otherwise exposed on a 90 degree, full-sun day. This is where we can step in and help out with some strategically placed homemade shade devices.
A little shade
Providing a little shade will go rather far when temperatures rise into the 90s and you may want to consider it throughout the garden. You can use lattice work, old screens, shade cloth, old sheets, fine netting or mesh (like what you would use for a wedding veil).
We have had plenty of rain this spring, so there is adequate moisture in the soil for now; however, the high heat will make plants transpire moisture through their foliage at a faster rate than they can take it up through their roots. Wilting due to this transpiration may occur, which doesn’t necessarily mean the soil is dry. If a plant recovers over night, then you know that the wilting was caused by rapid transpiration not thirst. Extra shade will help offset this and if you never mulched your vegetables, now would be the time to reassess that decision. Mulch helps keep the soil moist, but it helps keep it a bit cooler, too.
(Jeneen Wiche is an avid gardener from Shelbyville. She can be reached at JWiche@shelbybb.net.)