Tips for Gardening in Extreme Heat | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Tips for Gardening in Extreme Heat

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I like hot summers but I know that my opinion is in the minority, though, when I hear fellow gardeners complaining about the heat and humidity. Whether you like it hot or not, it is important to take care while working outside. Here are a few tips to help you cope with heat in the garden.

Gardening in the Heat

If you like to garden, be careful in extreme heat. Here are five sensible tips to keep in mind during hot weather.

  1. Do your heaviest work such as weeding early in the morning, as early in the day in possible, or in the evening. It’s good for both you and the plants. Take a cue from South American and Mediterranean countries where it is siesta time from 11 to 2. Sit in the shade, relax and enjoy your garden, listen to the birds and watch the butterflies. The weeds will still be there waiting for you once the day cools down.
  2. Slow down and pace yourself. Take frequent breaks. It’s okay if you can’t get as much done during a hot, muggy day as a cooler day!
  3. Keep hydrated. Drink plenty of cool water before, during and after working outside. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. And no alcohol. It just dehydrates you. Get in the habit of bring a water bottle with you if needed. Drink in small sips to avoid getting waterlogged. If you’re feeling dehydrated, consider a sports beverage which will place the salt you’re sweating out.
  4. Don’t forget the sunscreen! Apply the suncreen 30 minutes before going outdoors. (I apply when I get up in the morning as part of my routine.) You may have to reapply it after sweating.
  5. Wear a hat that shades not only your face but your ears and neck as well and wear light-colored clothes to reflect sunshine.
  6. Tie a wet bandanna around your neck or even drape a wet cotton dish towel over the nape of your neck. If you have considered buying one of the fancy cooling towels, save your money. Consumer Reports tested several along with an ordinary kitchen towel (smooth not terry cloth) and found that they only varied by about 2 degrees. Better yet, pop the wet bandanna or towel into the fridge or freezer for a while.
  7. Go inside if you feel yourself getting overheated or breathing too heavily. Take a cool shower or spray yourself with the garden hose! 

We all need access to water in the garden!


Summer Bummer

If like me you don’t know when to quit, one rule of thumb is to add the temperature and humidity figures together. If the answer is over 160 it is time to head inside. Heat-related deaths outnumber those from natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, and earthquakes combined.

There are three levels of heat sickness that can quickly affect a hard-working gardener on a hot day.

  1. Heat Stress can cause muscle cramps and fatigue. Your body is telling you it has had enough. Time to head to a shady cool location and drink some water. You can also try a sports drink to replace lost electrolytes and minerals. Ignoring the symptoms leads to heat exhaustion.
  2. Heat Exhaustion adds headache, nausea, and dizziness to the cramps and fatigue. Heavy sweating and  pale or flushed skin are also signs that your body is heading toward trouble. Ignoring these symptoms can quickly lead to heat stroke.
  3. Heat Stroke can be fatal! If you stop sweating, are vomiting, have a body temperature of 104, have a racing heart beat and rapid, shallow breathing, cool down immediately and seek medical help. Cool off in front of a fan or AC or take a cool shower or bath and drink water until help arrives. Cool down gradually. Don’t pour ice cold water on your head or you could go into shock. Untreated heat stroke will lead to unconsciousness and can damage your heart, kidneys, brain, and muscles.

See the Almanac’s Heat Index chart and great sun safety tips.

Hot weather is tough on plants and people too. You can’t take care of your garden if you don’t take care of yourself so when the thermometer starts to sizzle, head inside during the hottest part of the day.