Rafed English

Grow Flowers in Hot Dry Gardens

If it seems like the hottest summers on record have occurred within the past decade, you’re not the only one feeling the heat: your flowerbeds are at risk every year of stunting, flower drop, and premature death from high temperatures combined with inadequate rainfall. What’s a gardener to do, besides cultivating a cactus garden? Use these eight strategies to keep your garden April-lush in August.
Choose Plants With Small Leaves and Flowers
Look closely at the flowering plants that have proved to be your garden stalwarts: you’ll notice that many of them have small leaves and flowers. That is a survival adaptation that reduces evaporation and transpiration, which can cause plants to dry out quickly in hot, dry conditions. Small flowers don’t mean less of a show in your garden. Many plants with small flowers produce them copiously, creating a vibrant display that you can see from across the landscape. Examples include moss rose, strawflower, and penstemon.
Consider Native Plants
Native plants have a leg up on the competition: they’ve already evolved to thrive in your area. Native perennials adapted to hot, dry regions typically have deep root systems that help them survive drought. They also feature wildlife friendly flowers that nourish bees and birds with nectar and seeds.

If you think native plants have sparse blooms or a weedy appearance, get to know the newer cultivars of your favorite native plants. Horticulturists make improvements on the common wild species of native flowering plants, creating varieties with brighter colors and tidy, compact growth habits. Examples include the many recent Echinacea introductions, like ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Sundown.’

Hold the Fertilizer

Over-fertilizing flowers in hot weather can cause tender new growth that will scorch in the sun. If you have a heavy feeder, like a rosebush, fertilize it early in the season, when the plant is coming out of winter dormancy. If flower production is slowing down in the heat of summer, fertilizing may not increase flowering anyways: many ever-blooming plants take a rest after the first flush of blooms, and will begin blooming again as fall approaches.

Amend the Soil

Plants that must endure hot, dry weather usually won’t endure if those conditions are coupled with nutrient-poor sand or sun-baked clay. Giving your plants loose, loamy soil filled with humus will help roots reach deep, away from inhospitable temperatures and moisture-wicking air. Don’t just add compost and manure at planting time, as organic matter breaks down quickly, especially in hot weather.

Coddle Plant Babies

In their first year, flowering perennial plants don’t have the foliage or root systems to withstand the hot, dry weather that mature plants can. Roots may not extend beyond the foliage perimeter, making plants vulnerable to dry periods longer than a week. A good rule of thumb is to provide new perennials the equivalent of an inch of water per week. You can help new plants retain moisture by using mulch, which will also reduce competition from weeds and keep the soil cool.

Use Big Containers

It’s better to use large flowerpots than to try to get by with small pots filled with soil moisture-retaining crystals. Large pots, those larger than 14 inches in diameter, allow plants to develop healthy root systems, and stay cooler longer on hot summer days. Use light colored plastic or glazed pots to reflect sunlight for an additional protective measure.

Provide Some Shade

Even flowers that require full sun can use some protection from the full brunt of late afternoon rays in hot, dry climates. Full sun doesn’t mean that the plant must receive sun from dawn until twilight; six hours of sun is sufficient, which may mean that your plant receives shade from one p.m. onwards at the height of summer. If you can’t position your garden so that it receives some afternoon shade, employ a trellis, plant a tree, or use some shade cloth to give flowers a respite.

Water Wisely

A deep soaking twice a week is better than a daily sprinkling with the watering can. Soaking the soil encourages roots to plunge deep into the soil, producing vigorous plants that can survive hot, dry spells. Increase your irrigation efforts when flower buds appear. Drought-stressed plants shed their buds and flowers first as a survival defense mechanism.

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