How Hot Weather Effects Plants
Hot, dry summers are rough on plants, especially on non-native plants and those weak from improper care. Since many of our landscape plants aren't naturally adapted to heat, they need special attention and care. High temperatures speed up the normal living process of plants to a maximum rate at and above 90 degrees F. This means that most plants can take temperatures up to 90 degrees F. fairly well. Anything above that—the hotter it gets, the more they suffer! Of course, less tolerant or weaker plants suffer even more. The longer high temperatures persist, the greater the injury to the plant.
Hot soils also hamper plant growth. Shallow-rooted and container plants are particularly affected by soil heat build-up. Deeper-growing roots penetrate to a level of better soil temperatures and moisture. Mulching the soil surfaces around plants and watering properly is a good idea to stabilize soil temperatures. The most obvious symptom of a plant’s heat exposure and hot soils is persistent afternoon wilting, followed by foliage burn.
Hot air, particularly hot, dry wind, causes too much moisture loss from the plant's foliage. Some evaporation from leaves is normal, but when vital moisture is being evaporated faster than the plant's ability to replace it, leaves dry out and wilt. To be drought-tolerant, plants must have roots able to absorb as much, or more, moisture from the soil and do it as fast, or faster, than the foliage loses it. First symptoms of hot air injury are drying and browning at the tips and edges of older leaves. Then, tender new tip growth wilts, soon followed by dieback. Rapid moisture loss can cause tender leaves to turn black. Evaporation cools foliage, but if it doesn't get water from the roots fast enough to provide the evaporative cooling effect, the foliage gets hot, tender growth wilts and older leaves sunburn.
Exposure to the intense sunlight of bright, cloudless, summer days can be too much for sensitive plants. Reflected light from walls and other surfaces can also add to the problem. Stunted plant growth and a yellow-white "burn" on the upper surface of older leaves are familiar symptoms of too much intense sunlight. A good covering of leaves protects the tender bark of branches and stems from sunburn. If this shading is lost, or pruned off, the exposed tender bark will likely sunburn.
When some nutrients are reduced or limited, or their uptake inhibited, deficiency symptoms quickly appear. Such is the case with iron during hot weather growth. Wet soils, dry soils, not watering deep enough, salty or caliche soils, etc. will decrease the amount of iron plants can absorb from the soil. The yellow foliage symptoms of iron chlorosis appear as greenish-yellow leaves with dark veins. As iron deficiency becomes troublesome, the green color of leaves turns to yellow, then to white and finally brown as the tissue dies.
Plant location is very important. Shaded locations cut summer stress for heat- and sunlight-sensitive plants. Eastern exposures or open areas are generally preferred for blooming plants. Southern or western exposures are subject to direct, intense sunlight, as well as reflected heat. Because walled areas of these hot exposures build up and hold additional heat, only very heat tolerant plants can survive in these locations. Also, consider draft and wind exposure when positioning plants whose foliage may be particularly subject to burn by hot, drying air movement.
"How long and how often to water" depends upon how long the soil retains moisture and how fast that moisture is being used. A proper balance of moisture and air in the soil is necessary for roots to breathe and do their job. Irrigate to maintain favorable, not abundant soil moisture. Water long enough during each irrigation to allow moisture to penetrate completely through the plant rooting area, but no more often than necessary to prevent foliage wilt! Following this rule, and you'll automatically adjust to the age and type of plant as well as to the differences in seasonal requirements. Deep, penetrating irrigations each time also keep soil salts washed downward out of the root area. A drip irrigation system is THE MOST effective, efficient method of watering.
Fertilizing during hot weather should be done with caution, if at all. Increased living processes of plants during hot weather use up nutrient reserves faster. However, rapid uptake of fertilizers by summer-active roots could result in fertilizer burn. Increase the fertilization frequency, but decrease the amount applied each time. Fall fertilization helps plants recover from summer exhaustion. Spring fertilization encourages strong growth to better withstand summer stress. Food for thought or should I say water for thought...till next time, this is Becky Litterer from Becky's Greenhouse, Dougherty Iowa