by Sandy Swegel
My neighbor is panicking and frantically watering all her plants and trees that have droopy wilting leaves. The leaves weren’t getting any better and she feared there was some horrid disease killing everything. But there isn’t some disease…the plants are just stressed by our heat wave with temperatures in the 90s and above. One way plants cope with heat is to let their leaves droop or fold so that they aren’t losing so much water from the leaf surface.
Still, plants coping or not, a heat wave means you are getting few tomatoes. Plants quit setting fruit when the temps are above 92 or so no matter how many pollinators you have. So what can you do? When temperatures are a little lower, July is the time when I usually recommend a good fertilizing to keep the tomatoes at production. But in the heat, tomatoes are just struggling to live and fertilizing may just add to the stress.
What can you do for your heat-stressed plants?
Make sure you keep your watering consistent. You don’t need to drown the plants. No amount of water is going to compensate for temperature.
Mulch any exposed soil exposed to direct sun. Some tomato plants have already shaded the entire surface with leaves, but if there is garden soil getting hit by full sun, put some mulch or grass clippings or old leaves over the soil to keep it from baking in the sun.
If it looks like the heat wave will last quite a while, try to shade your tomatoes. The most effective shading blocks the hot afternoon sun. You can try hoops with shade cloth or throw some row cover over the plants. One frugal local farmer stretches old bedsheets on T-posts on the western side of the plants. Any protection helps until the temperatures lower again. The shade also will help protect the fruit from sunburn.
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