Caring for Plants During Heat and Drought

By: Jennifer LaMontagne – Horticulturist – Bloch’s Farm – Green Lake, WI

            Even though the length of the summer growing season in our region can be shorter than in other locations, heat and dry conditions can still stress our plants.  Besides choosing drought-tolerant perennials and refraining from the use of fertilizers during the hottest periods, there are a few watering strategies that can assist plants through the summer heat.   

Proper watering is essential during hot, dry conditions.  There are many convenient watering methods available.  A hand watering wand allows you to water near the base of the plant.  You can also use soaker hoses, garden sprinklers, or a drip irrigation system.  Make sure that the water is applied slowly, so it soaks in rather than running off. 

Water early in the morning, before the heat of the day, to minimize evaporation.  To ensure more efficient root systems, water thoroughly, making sure the water sinks deep into the roots.  Try to avoid watering in the late evening.  Without the sun to dry off the leaves, the plants become more susceptible to diseases.  

During periods of dry summer heat, most trees and shrubs benefit from receiving 1 to 2 inches of water every week.  Water-loving trees such as willows, birches, alders, poplars, and fruit trees may need at least 3 inches of water per week when temperatures climb above 90 degrees.  Small shrubs and perennials should receive at least 1 inch of water over their entire root area 2-3 times a week.  Newly transplanted plants may need to be watered daily.  

It’s best to apply water in one slow application.  A useful tip for measuring water is to place a 1-inch deep can, such as a tuna fish or cat food can, near the drip-line of the plants you are watering.  As soon as the can is filled, you have one inch of water.  For plants that need 2-3 inches of water, simply empty the can, and allow it to refill once or twice more.  

Mulching around the base of trees, shrubs, and flowers helps them retain water, and removing weeds prevents plants from having to compete for water and nutrients.  If you notice a plant that is wilting, a little investigation may be necessary.  Wilting can be a sign of heat-stress, and a bit of shade may need to be offered to plants such as hydrangeas and ligularias.  Too much or too little water can also cause wilting, so dig down about six inches to see if the soil is too moist or too dry.  If none of these seems to be the problem, check to see if the plant may be suffering from an insect or disease problem.        

Bloch’s Farm has a great selection of trees, shrubs, and perennials available!  We also have watering wands and mulch available!  Call 920-294-6000 or e-mail with any questions.  Visit our website online at and our Facebook page.  Don’t miss out on this weekend’s sale! July 31st – August 2nd: 75% Off Tropical Plants!

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