Regardless of where you live, it’s likely you have some climate challenges to deal with when growing food. Dry hot conditions with no rain make it especially tough. It’s particularly difficult growing food in extreme heat with drought due to low rainfall. El Nino weather patterns and a changing climate are affecting food growers globally. Home gardeners need a plan and strategies to prepare and cope.
Growing Food in Hot Dry Weather
Here in my subtropical climate in SE Queensland, Australia we experience five seasons of different lengths. Some months are almost perfect food growing conditions and others are extremely challenging.
During our summer months – December through March – it’s typically hot and uncomfortably sticky. We can get sudden storms which often bring torrential rain and even hail, flooding the garden and potentially damaging plants or even destroying them. Hail damaged leaves, fruit and stems are more vulnerable to diseases as the plant tissues are exposed to pathogens.
Baking hot days often results in heat stress and scorching temperatures can cause sunburn. Many plants can suffer dehydration very quickly. Exposure to intense direct sunlight, higher-than-average temperatures and wind, without sufficient soil moisture is a recipe for plant damage and poor yields.
During storm season, strong gusty winds can stress plants, particularly if they are hot and dry. During storms, wild weather can cause stems and branches to easily snap or fruit to drop. Wind also causes fungal spores to spread quickly, worsening diseases like powdery mildew.
Not to mention the pest insects and diseases that thrive in hot, humid and windy conditions! At times it seems like everything is stacked against us as food gardeners.
An El Nino weather pattern can be particularly harsh with drier and hotter conditions than normal. I find the best way to cope is to know what to expect in your climate and be prepared with suitable strategies. Once you understand your unique microclimates, you can make more informed choices about which plants to locate to suit the conditions.
Likely you have difficult weather at times too. So, what can you do to help protect your precious plants?
3 Ways to Protect your Crops from the Weather
1. Provide Windbreaks
Wind dries your plants out faster than anything else. Shelter your plants from exposure to strong winds with a fence, wall, hedge, vertical structure, living screen, portable panel, DIY landscape fabric or shade cloth cover.
By filtering the airflow or protecting your plants fully from wind exposure, you can help minimise potential damage. Make sure to position your windbreak from the prevailing wind aspect for maximum benefit.
2. Use Crop Covers
Whether you use a greenhouse, shade house, hoop house, box, frame or portable temporary overs, these can help protect against sun, storm, wind and hail damage. There are lots of DIY options for minimal cost, especially if you repurpose materials.
If you have very strong sunlight or high temperatures, you may need to provide more shade in the heat of the day. 30-50% shade cloth reduces direct sunlight exposure and minimises moisture loss. Plants still photosynthesize without the energy and water lost via transpiration.
3. Grow in Portable Pots
If you grow in containers, you have greater control over the microclimate. Move mobile pots under cover or to a more protected location. I relocate mine under my veranda during storms or sit small pots under outdoor furniture. Protect your plants to prevent them being shredded by strong winds, pelted by heavy rain or hail.
I use a combination of these three strategies and find they all help tremendously. Good design, careful plant and pot selection will also make a huge difference to growing food in hot, dry weather and windy conditions.
I encourage you to try these ideas in your garden to protect your crops from weather challenges.
Watering your Plants to Minimise Problems
If you experience hot or windy weather conditions in your garden, it’s vital to pay close attention to your watering practices. Plants lose moisture much faster in high temperatures and on windy days, than on cool calm days. Your plants will also use up more soil moisture in these conditions and that needs to be replaced. Even more so if the conditions are ongoing.
Heatwaves, hot drying winds and low humidity increase the need for moisture. So, watch your weather forecast and act accordingly.
All plants need water to take up soluble nutrients, grow and thrive. Without sufficient soil moisture, the nutrients plants need for healthy growth are ‘locked up’ and unavailable. Plants can then become vulnerable to pest and disease attack as they weaken and can’t protect themselves.
Make sure your soil has adequate moisture to replace what is lost through transpiration and plant growth. Either by rain or a watering system. This can include hand watering, water spikes, drip irrigation, soaker hoses and sprinklers. Read more watering tips.
If you’re not sure how moist your soil is, you might find it handy to use a moisture meter. Stick the probe into your pot or soil and check the moisture levels.
This helps you avoid watering when it’s not necessary but also alerts you to dry soil that needs attention. A moisture meter is a practical tool to avoid ‘murdering’ your plants and ending up with ‘dried arrangements’!
Potting mix (especially without mulch) tends to dry out fast. Even more so in small pots.
You can remedy this by either adding moisture-holding ingredients to your bagged potting mix or making your own soil-less mix from scratch. Use this How to Make Potting Mix Guide for easy instructions.
I hope these tips help you grow a healthier, more productive food garden even in windy and hot, dry weather conditions.
- 9 Strategies to Help Combat Common Edible Garden Problems
- 18 Top Tips for Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions
- How to Mulch your Garden for Free
- How to Restore Waterlogged Pot Plants
- Summer Heatwaves
- 10 Water Saving Tips for your Garden
- 17 Water Saving Tips for Container Gardens
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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2018. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.
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