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Home & Garden: Protecting plants from the heat

Curt Swift
CURT’S CORNER
Free Press Gardening Columnist

Our weather has gone from freezing into the 80s within just a few days. In addition to being hard on us, this temperature shift has had an even greater affect of the plants we recently transplanted. Such plants need to be protected from the hot winds and sun until they are better acclimated. Once these young plants have developed an adequate root system to take care of the transpiration requirements of the leaves and stems, the protective covers can be removed (but this may take a of couple weeks).

I do not like to see plants wilt as this reduces their productive ability and providing shade helps reduce this problem. This is true whether it is a tomato plant or a shrub. I use the same material to shade newly transplanted plants as I use to protect new plantings from the winter cold — a white spun-bonded polyethylene frost barrier. The concept is the same; keep the winter sun from drying out exposed plant tissue and soil, and keep the summer sun and wind from drying out new transplants. Thanks to Elizabeth and Wayne, I have a supply of heavy wire I can use to form a canopy of fabric over new transplants. There is still adequate air movement through the fabric to keep the plants from getting too hot and I can water right through the fabric, eliminating the need to remove the fabric whenever watering is needed. I would caution against the use of sheets of plastic as this can result in extreme temperatures and kill the plant.

Every gardener knows of the need to harden-off new plants before setting them out into the garden. The purpose is to acclimate them to some of the conditions they will be exposed to when set in their permanent spot in the garden. They need to be hardened against hot sun and soil, wind, low humidity, and dry soils. The way we do this is by setting them into a protected area outside where they are in the shade and not susceptible to freezing temperatures.



While our freezing temperatures are over, plants that were not hardened off by the greenhouse and nursery still should be hardened off prior to planting, or immediately after planting be provided shade until they develop adequate roots. Some area commercial vegetable growers find they have better production with tomatoes, peppers, and vine crops when provided with shade during the growing season. Okra also benefits from shade.

The shade cover should be open on the bottom to allow air movement and for insects to enter if pollination is necessary. This same technique will protect tomatoes, peppers, and other crops susceptible to curly top virus. The leafhopper that spreads this virus does not like to feed in shaded areas. If you have had problems with leaf miners in your spinach and beet greens, covering these crops with a spun-bonded polyethylene fabric will keep the insects away. The edges of the fabric needs to be held down with two by fours, soil, etc., so the adult leaf miner can’t crawl underneath. This may make it awkward to harvest the greens but at least you won’t have to pick out the maggots.



The rooted lavender cuttings we recently potted into 4-inch pots will need to be kept under fabric until their roots have filled a container. This may take several weeks so daily watering and an occasional fertilization will be necessary. Until these 1,700 lavender plants are set into the field, my backyard will be covered with tents of fabric. Once transplanted into the field they will again be covered with fabric to help them develop roots in their new location.

These plants will be fertilized prior to being planted in their final location. I will not be using a root stimulating product. If you look at the label of most root stimulants they contain a plant growth regulator that is supposed to increase root growth. The research I’ve seen on these products indicate the nitrogen in the product is what is responsible for positive growth. You can apply nitrogen to the soil prior to planting or to the transplant prior to planting and have the same results at a much lower cost.

GJ Free Press columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.


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