Tag Archives: water management

Heat Stress in Plants

We’re into the hottest days of summer now. For many, it’s a bountiful time of year. You may be harvesting armloads of summer squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, and other favorites at this point in the season. Unfortunately, you may also begin to spot signs of heat stress in your plants, especially if you live in an area affected by prolonged heat waves. Recognizing heat stress and knowing how to prevent and stop it can improve your harvest.

What Does Heat Stress Look Like?

Heat stress can look different depending on the plant and local conditions. Here are a few common features you might see if plants in your garden are stressed.


Bolting is when a plant goes to flower and usually becomes bitter and inedible. While bolting is a natural part of many crops’ life cycles, premature bolting is often a sign of heat stress. In hot weather, you may notice your broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and spinach bolting.


While dropping leaves can also be a sign of disease, it’s often a sign of heat stress. If your plants droop during the heat of the day but perk back up in the evening, it’s probably the heat.

Blossom and Fruit Drop

Plants may drop fruit and blossoms in extreme heat to conserve resources for survival. You may also notice misshapen or unreformed fruit like cucumbers. Often these plants will recover after a heat wave passes.


Some crops, particularly tomatoes, melons, and peppers, may develop sun scald on the side of the fruit exposed to the sun. This may look like watery spots, blistering, or discolored spots. It often occurs in plants that have lost much of their foliage to disease. 

Blossom End Rot and Other Disease Issues

Blossom end rot can be annoying when you grab a tomato that looks perfect on top and has a big black sunken spot on the bottom. While many will tell you that blossom end rot is a calcium issue, and that is true, it can be caused by heat stress. When stressed, plants can fail to take up enough calcium for fruit production even when it’s available in the soil. 

Other disease issues may also become more prevalent. Think of a stressed plant as a person with a weak immune system. They’ll be more susceptible to disease if they’re already fighting to survive.

How Do I Prevent Heat Stress?

While you can’t change the temperature, you can help your plants in other ways. Here’s how to prevent heat stress in your garden.

Keep Up With Weeding

When it’s hot in the summer, weeding is no one’s favorite task, but it is essential, particularly during these periods. Weeds compete with your plants for moisture and nutrients, putting extra stress on them. 


Once your garden is weeded, it’s time to apply mulch. Mulch is a simple way to insulate the soil keeping the soil cool and moist. It’s essential around young, and shallow-rooted plants as the top few inches of soil can heat up quickly.


Especially in times of high heat, water consistently if possible. Watering deeply in the morning is ideal because it allows the water to soak in and not evaporate. However, if you notice dry, stressed plants, water them immediately. Watering the roots either by hand or with soaker hoses or irrigation will save water compared to overhead watering.

Provide Some Shade

Especially with cool-season crops, it can be a good idea to create some shade in the summer heat. You can use tulle or row cover to provide shade. You can also use taller crops like corn, pole beans, or sunflowers to offer a bit of shade to shorter crops. Shading the soil with vining plants like squash and cucumbers keeps the soil cooler for taller crops like sunflowers and corn.

Also, spots in your garden that don’t receive full sun may be an excellent space for summer greens. The morning sun tends to be much gentler than the afternoon sun. 

Don’t Plant, Transplant, or Prune

These activities are stressful for plants and are best done in cooler weather. If you need to transplant, do so in the evening or on an overcast day. You may also want to provide transplants with artificial shade. 

Harvest in Cool Weather

Your produce will stay fresh much longer if you harvest in the early morning or evening. Plus, it will be much easier on you! If you must harvest in hotter parts of the day and are going to harvest greens, bring along a bucket of ice water. Immediately plunging greens into the ice water will help them stay crisp and fresh.

Beating the heat isn’t always easy when you’re a gardener! Thankfully, these tips should allow you to keep your plants healthy through the heat of July and August.

Garden Water Management

Water may seem like one of the easiest elements of a garden to manage. Pulling out the sprinkler is undoubtedly easier than pulling weeds! Unfortunately, as many gardeners have discovered, water can cause a host of issues in the garden if you have too much or too little. Here are a few ways you can improve your garden to cope with water shortages and surpluses. 

Too Much Water

Erosion Control

Many gardeners lucky enough to call the Appalachians home have to cope with less than flat garden plots. Even with a slight slope, erosion can be a significant cause for concern.

Erosion damages garden soil by washing away organic matter and essential nutrients. It’s also damaging to local watersheds. When excess soil nutrients end up in streams, lakes, and rivers, they can cause algal blooms, which harm fish and other aquatic life. 

  1. Swales & Terraces

    For severe slopes or areas you know are prone to erosion, building contour swales or terraced beds may be worth the time and work invested.

    You can create terraced beds with a variety of materials, including boards, logs, or rocks. You want to create a wall that is parallel with the slope. Then you can flatten the soil behind it by raking it against the wall. This method is a great way to be able to grow annual crops on hillsides.

    Swales are essentially mounded beds with ditches behind them. Larger swales are typically built to follow the contour of a slope. Swales help prevent erosion and retain water. The water that collects in the ditch slowly seeps into the mound, providing moisture to plants over a longer period. You can learn more about building a swale of your own in our post, “Let’s Talk About Swales.”

  2. Cover Crops

    Another critical factor in preventing erosion is never leaving soil bare. Cover crops help prevent erosion because their roots help hold soil in place, and take up some moisture. Sow cover crops in pathways between beds, in areas not currently in production, and during the fall to keep your soil covered during the winter and spring. Learn more about which cover crops you should plant in this blog post.

Water-Logged Soils/Standing Water

Another issue common to the Southeastern US is heavy clay soils. These types of soils are prone to becoming water-logged during the spring rainy season. There are a few things so can do to combat this issue.

  1. Add Organic Matter

    Organic matter dramatically improves how your soil handles water. It soaks up water during rains and allows plants to access it slowly over time. The fastest way to add organic mater to your garden is to top dress your garden with several inches of well-aged compost.

    You can also add organic matter by using cover crops and mulch. Natural mulches like straw, leaves, grass clippings, and wood chips slowly break down adding organic matter and nutrients to the soil.

  2. Go No-Till

    Like adding organic matter, reducing the amount you till helps improve drainage and allows plants to access moisture over a longer time. Ditching the tiller keeps soil structure intact and reduces compaction, a major problem with clay soils.

  3. Raised Beds

    If you struggle with wet spring soils, you might consider building raised beds. You can create raised beds from scrap lumber, logs, rocks, and other cheap or free materials. They drain well and warm up quickly in the spring, helping you to get an early start. Keep in mind they also dry out faster during the hot summer months.

Too Little Water

Water Efficiently

Not all watering schedules are created equal! Watering in the cooler early morning or evening helps decrease the amount of water you lose to evaporation. You can further reduce evaporation by using drip irrigation or soaker hoses.If you often forget to turn off your watering system, consider purchasing a timer which will shut it off automatically. Alternatively you can set a kitchen timer or timer on your phone to remind you.


Mulch helps keep soil cool and moist, reducing evaporation. You can use many cheap or free materials as mulch including cover crop residue, grass clippings, straw, leaves, and wood chips. 

Collect Rainwater

  1. Rain Barrels

    Rain barrels are an excellent asset for any backyard garden. You can add gutters to your home or garden shed and collect the water in a barrel to use for watering plants. Rain barrels don’t need to be fancy; cleaned trash barrels with holes drilled in the appropriate places will work if you don’t mind a DIY project.

  2. Swales

    As we mentioned above, you can also use contour swales to collect rainwater. The water fills the ditch behind the mound and slowly seeps into it, allowing plants to soak up the water over a longer time.

Choose Water-Wise Crops

If you have an area of your garden that is hard to water you may want to plant crops and flowers that don’t require much. These include native flowers like echinacea and food crops like flint and dent corns.

Whether you struggle with too much water or too little these strategies can help make your garden more productive. Proper water management is key to a healthy garden and a healthy local ecosystem.