Keeping up with a garden during summer’s dog days
By Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University, Master Gardener
We have reached the dog days of summer, and getting out in the garden just does not rank high in the list of options for our time. It is hot and humid, and just a few minutes in the garden means that sweat will likely be pouring off of you.
Some days, the air is heavy and hard to breathe. It makes it easy to just say goodbye to the garden and let nature take its course.
However, this hot, humid weather is exactly what many of our plants need, especially when the moisture supply is good. Growth of all plants, including weeds, will be accelerated. This is the weather that gives us those wonderful ripe tomatoes, peppers and squash.
The Indiana State Fair is underway. Why not take a break from the gardens and spend some time at the fair?
Support our local youth and look at all the talent that goes into those 4-H projects. Eat some fair food. You can get back to your tomato diet in a couple of days. The fairgrounds has some air-conditioned buildings, so take advantage of those modern conveniences when the weather gets too hot.
When you return to your garden, do so in small doses. You can follow the shade around and at least keep some degree of comfort. I sometimes feel I never finish a project, because the shade moves before I get done in an area, but there is always tomorrow.
Dress for the weather. Hats are not just fashion accessories in the garden. I prefer a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off my shoulders.
Several years ago, I bought a hat that can be soaked in water and wrung out before putting it on. As the moisture evaporates, it helps to cool the wearer’s head. It is getting a little rough-looking, and some relatives have bought me new hats to encourage me to stop using this hat, but none of them has the cooling capacity that I have found in this hat.
Since I am alone in the garden 99% of the time, I continue to wear my beloved hat when gardening.
Wear light-weight clothing in light colors. Some activities may require long sleeves and long pants but keep things as light as possible.
One may usually find white dress shirts at thrift stores for bargain prices. If someone asks why I am “dressed up” in the garden, I tell them that the garden is a place of worship for me.
Misters are readily available these days. What was a great luxury just a few years ago is now very affordable.
Outdoor fans mean that one may create a breeze even when the air is stagnant. It is amazing how much that breeze and the mist can refresh a gardener and give him or her enough strength to continue just a little longer.
When you do get to the point of exhaustion, take a break. The weeds will still be there tomorrow, and other garden tasks will wait as well.
Go inside and cool off, if you have an air-conditioned home, or sit in the shade with a glass of ice water. At Sandhill Gardens, I have a great selection of places to sit and take a break.
I recommend that every landscape include multiple seats, whether they be manufactured lawn furniture or just rocks and blocks of wood. Spread them throughout the garden so there is always a place to take a break.
Eat a popsicle and travel back to the days of your youth. Sit and take in the beauty around you.
If you spend too much time working, you will miss the purpose of the work. I have learned that even the greatest botanical gardens in the world have weeds, and I have learned that the quest for the perfect landscape is a fool’s errand.
Relax and enjoy the garden. That weed may be the next fad accent plant.