Heat, late snow, floods, tornadoes: this year is challenging for every gardener.

June 24, 2011

Snow in May didn't bode well for this growing season.

Credit: Doreen G. Howard
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Our nation has experienced one of the most bizarre and severe spring-summer transitions in over a hundred years, according to many long-standing records. It’s been perplexing to me and my garden, but I’m sure it’s been worse for many of you readers.

Winter hung around my Zone 4b area forever. Spring was two weeks long according to local meteorologists. Then, the Dog Days of Summer descended. 

Crucifers in the vegetable garden bolted before they formed heads with the rapid onset of extreme heat.

Tiny forming purple cauliflower heads bolted, radishes turned hot and bitter and containers of lettuce shriveled. It went from 44º F to 97º F in 48 hours during the first week of June. 

A sudden storm with 110 m.p.h. winds spawned a tornado that did this and blew in the side of our screen porch on June 3.

A F1 tornado descended as the seasons clashed, snapping an 80-foot elm and blowing it into the rose garden where it crushed shrubs. Pea trellises and every spring flower in the garden blew into the next county! Since, it’s been sultry and hotter than the firecrackers my son lit on July 4th.  

Good things happened, too. Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ sent up huge bloom stalks much earlier than usual, and tomato plants exploded with growth and are furiously setting fruit.

This aroid bloom will go on to produce colorful red berries and then go dormant in mid-Summer.

Apples and Asian pears on all the trees are already the size of tennis balls and the blueberry bushes are loaded with quickly ripening fruit, about a month ahead of schedule. 

I’ve made some adjustments quickly to deal with the fluctuating temperatures. One day it’s a drizzly 64º F and then a week in the high 90’s sets in. A front clears the area with storm damage, and the 60’s reappear. And the rain keeps falling, making the ground soggy. Here are some of the tricks I’ve borrowed from others and learned to keep the garden growing during this difficult season.

Weather-Proofing Tips:

  • Move all container plants to the shade when temperatures soar. Sprinkle water on leaves of lettuces and other broad-leafed plants once or twice a day to keep them from wilting.
  • Withhold fertilizer during extended periods of heat. Plants reduce their photosynthesis in order to survive. Conversely, feed plants often, especially those in containers when rainfall is plentiful. Nutrients wash out of soil when it rains day after day. 
  • Plant in raised beds to avoid drainage problems from flooding. Elevate containers on bricks or boards when heavy rains are on the horizon. 
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch. A thick insulating layer of organic matter keeps soil temperatures from fluctuating during heat waves and cold periods. Mulch also helps to dissipate heavy rainfall. 
  • When severe weather is predicted, move containers to the north side of the house or garage or bring indoors. Secure trellises, garden statuary and bird feeders so they don’t blow away. 
  • Keep trees trimmed so branches don’t snap in high winds. Remove any diseased or dying tree, especially if it has the potential for falling on your house, a fence or prized plants.

Got soggy soil? Or drought conditions? What are your tips for gardening in challenging weather? Please share your thoughts and experiences with the Almanac community by posting below. Thank you!

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Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

In stores now!

Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com.

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