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Heat wave warnings and dog day dos and don'ts

Friday - 7/6/2012, 2:33pm  ET

How heat can affect the garden

Mike McGrath


Mark McGrath,

WASHINGTON - Hang in there, cats and kittens, this heat wave should break by Monday. In the meantime, and during future heat waves, remember:

  • Don't cut cool season lawns like bluegrass or fescue until the heat wave breaks and/or right before rain is certain. (For instance, late in the day Sunday would be good if you've been letting your lawn get a little long and can only work on it on the weekend.)
  • Don't cut cool-season lawns below three inches. They'll brown right out if you do.
  • Don't feed cool-season lawns in summer. They'll brown right out if you do.
  • Water lawns and gardens deeply when you water-for at least an hour or two at a time (longer is even better).
  • Avoid short, frequent waterings. They decrease your lawn's ability to survive a heat wave.
  • Only water early in the morning, never in the heat of the day or the evening.
  • Don't water more than twice a week.
  • Don't freak out if heat sensitive plants like tomatoes and hydrangeas wilt on hundred degree days. So would you. They'll perk back up overnight. Do not respond to wilting by watering the affected plants during the heat of the day. You'll only make things worse. If it's been five or more days without water and/or they don't perk back up overnight, water them deeply in the morning-ideally at the base of the plants.
  • Don't worry about lack of flowers or new fruits on tomatoes during heat waves. Their pollen fries when temps are in the mid-90s and higher. They'll get back to normal production when the temps drop back into the 80s.

Rabbits are easy, deer are hard

Pamela in Bowie writes: "What do you feel is the best way to deter deer and rabbits from eating my garden plants? Something with sulfur in it? Please let me know soon, because all my hard work is being eaten up."

Our local rabbits don't burrow and are easy to deter with a low fence, Pam. Just a foot high with a few inches buried in the ground will keep the bunnies out.

Deer, however, are very difficult to deter (and on average, each "bad news Bambi" eats six pounds of plants every day they belly up to our outdoor salad bar). Deer repellants made with putrescent egg solids (which smell like sulfur when they're being freshly applied) work well, but need to be sprayed regularly to be effective. I rely on a motion activated sprinkler -- you hook it up to your hose and it shoots cold water at anything that comes near your plants. (Here's one version from Havahart and the original 'scarecrow'.

Feed the birds and you also feed Satan's evil servants ! Sandy in White Plains writes: "My husband likes to feed the birds, but the area is overrun with squirrels. We do the best we can to prevent the squirrels having access to the bird seed, but they are very acrobatic. Is there any way to get rid of the squirrels in the bird feed area?"

Squirrels are evil servants of Satan who can defeat even the most clever so-called "squirrel-proof feeders." And squirrels that are fed by humans, intentionally or otherwise, wreak havoc in gardens. And the spilled seed that results from their feeding breeds mice, rats and voles.

And birds don't need seed in the summer. There's plenty of natural food for them in the wild. They do need fresh water, which is terribly scarce right now. So replace those feeders with birdbaths. Then do feed the birds with suet in the winter, which will get them to nest near your home. I have many more birds since I stopped feeding seed and made sure to supply lots of suet in the winter and water in the summer.

Emergency calcium for tomatoes: Tum Ta Tum Tums

Patti in Annapolis writes: "I just read about your suggestion to use eggshells at planting time to prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes. Of course, my tomatoes are in the ground already. But I have 600 mg. calcium carbonate pills; are they ok to use? If so, how many should I put in a two gallon watering can; and how often should I water with the calcium? (I have 3 plants.)"

I think that dissolved calcium carbonate tablets (nutritional supplements or Tums -- same active ingredient) might provide the calcium that prevents the heartbreak of tomatoes rotting out on the bottom just as they ripen, but I really have no idea exactly how much to use.

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