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Drought and Excessive Summer Heat

Even the most heat-tolerant plant species start to suffer when daylight highs top 86 degrees or more. The higher the heat goes beyond that and the longer it lasts, the more plants can suffer. 

New plantings are at particularly at risk. Annual flowers and vegetables in pots can die after just a few days without water. 

New trees, shrubs and evergreens are the most expensive plants so it's important to keep your investment healthy. 

Sometimes it is difficult to tell by appearance if particular plants need watering. Most notorious are evergreens, such as spruce, pines, firs, arborvitae, and junipers. These can look perfectly fine for weeks after their roots have completely died from lack of water. Then they brown all over- seemingly overnight. 

That happens because evergreens hold moisture and color in their foliage long after the water flow from the roots has stopped. For example, Christmas trees retain their green color long after they have been cut.

Deciduous Trees and Shrubs

Leaf-dropping or "deciduous" trees and shrubs are a little better with warning signs. Deciduous plants will show subtle discoloration of pale green or yellow/green leaf color and wilting of leaves. 

The next step is wilting or leaf-curling, which means the plant is progressing into shutdown mode. This followed by leaves turning brown at the tips and edges. These are all indications that the roots aren't keeping up with the water demand. 

Finally, without support watering, the leaves will begin dropping: the tree is trying to conserve enough moisture to keep the roots alive for survival.

Wilting is not always a sign of not enough water. It can also be due to excessively high temperatures. Big leaf hydrangeas are good examples. They will wilt during the heat of the day, but by morning they are recovered. This can mean they are maintaining good soil moisture, but it is crucial to always check anyway. 

It is possible to over-water when you see a plant wilting as well by saturating the soil enough to make it soggy. This can rot and kill roots. Dead roots can't deliver moisture to the above-ground plant parts. So the leaves will wilt. 

The most reliable method to check for soil moisture is to stick your finger next to the root ball and check for even moisture. The bulk of the support root hairs are in the top 8 inches of soil. You should feel even moisture. 

Watering every day is NOT a good idea. Either you are not giving sufficient depth of watering to the entire root ball, or you are water logging the roots and limiting their ability to take in oxygen. 

When non-evergreen plants lose their foliage, they can be brought back with water and cooler temps. At this point, it is important to water carefully so you do not drown the plant. 

Perennial flowers  are a bit better at going brown and dormant to save their own life. You might notice plants such as ferns, astilbe, hosta, and sweet woodruff literally frying back to the ground, only to push new growth when rain and cool temperatures return. 

When you're watering plants, create a basin around the base of them and water directly into it, not over the top of the plant. Keep foliage dry: only water the base. You must provide  a slow, deep saturation when watering. For new and shallow-rooted flowers and vegetables, you might need to water every 2-3 days in a heat wave. 

For bigger-rooted trees, shrubs, or evergreens you might need to water every 4-6 days. You'll have to add more water to make sure the soil is damp to the bottom of those root balls. 




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