Taking the Heat
By Cathy Babcock | Photography by Art Holeman
How to help your lawn and garden survive the summer swelter
Summertime and the living isn’t quite so easy in Arizona, especially not for plants. June is generally our hottest and driest month before the monsoons kick in. While you can escape to the mountains to cool off, your plants must endure the relentless heat. So what can you do to help them survive until fall?
If you haven’t done so already, check your timer and irrigation system. This is a good time to replace the battery backup and adjust the watering schedule to meet summer plant needs. For drip irrigation, turn on each valve individually and check for any leaks. Make sure that each emitter is in place and not clogged. If you discover a dead plant, either replace it or disable the emitter at that location until ready to re-use. Turn on tree bubblers and sprinklers and make sure they are all functioning properly. Your lawn sprinklers should receive the same inspection. Ensure that each individual head isn’t broken or blocked with dirt and debris. Check the spray coverage to be certain there is overlap and no dry spots. Not sure what your watering schedule should be? A useful booklet is “Landscape Watering by the Numbers,” produced by Water—Use It Wisely and available at many local nurseries and city offices.
If you have natural grass, it is best to mow a little higher than you usually do to avoid stressing your lawn. Now is the time to dethatch and fertilize. Two great resources for determining maintenance and watering schedules based on your type of grass and specific needs are ag.arizona.edu/azmet and the “Arizona Master
Gardener Manual,” which can be ordered at cals.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/mg.
The needs of your in-ground plants will vary according to type: tree, shrub, succulent, etc. Watering deeply rather than more often is better for the health of your plants. Generally, small plants, including succulents, should be watered to a depth of 1 foot. Medium-sized plants can be watered to a depth of 2 feet, while trees and larger plants should go to 3 feet in depth. Invest in a soil probe to be sure you are watering deeply enough. Remember, most water-absorbing roots are found near the plant’s dripline, not at the base of the trunk. Consider adding mulch around vegetation to help retain moisture in the soil and insulate roots. If you fertilize, do so in the morning, and water-in well to avoid burning the plants.
Container plants will need a little more attention. It is worth your while to purchase a moisture meter at your local garden center. This useful tool will help you in determining when a given container needs watering.
As temperatures increase, so will watering needs, which will be dependent on the type of plant in the pot. Soil in unglazed pottery will dry out more quickly than in a glazed container. Situate potted plants so they do not receive direct afternoon sun in the summer. Container-bound plants will also benefit from a layer of mulch. Fertilize on a regular basis in the summer, being sure to water-in well afterwards. Cacti and other succulents should be watered sparingly during the high-humidity monsoon season. If you have recently relocated to Arizona from another part of the country, you’re probably accustomed to bringing your plants inside for the winter months and returning them to the sunshine for spring and summer. We typically do the opposite, taking plants in for the summer and setting them back out in the fall.
Any pruning should be performed before the full brunt of summer temperatures hits. Aim for the removal of safety hazards and minor trimming to avoid sunburn. For monsoon safety, keep branches trimmed off your roof, thin tree canopies to decrease wind resistance and reduce the weight of any obviously heavy branches. Young trees should be properly staked to protect them from being snapped off in high winds.
Although there is no SPF 30 sunscreen for your garden, following these guidelines should bring your plants and lawn through the summer with minimal stress. As always, choosing the correct plant for the climate and situation is key to a successful landscape.