Gardening tips to reduce heat stress

Gardening tips to reduce heat stress

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Everyone loves summer, but this season has brought higher than normal temperatures in New Jersey. This may be great for beach days, but plants in the garden can suffer from heat stress, causing severe adverse effects on their growth and survival. Heat stress affects the ability of plants to grow, flower and produce seeds. Excessive heat can make the plant appear droopy, dried out, and sometimes burned.

The good news is that there are ways you can reduce heat stress in your garden. For example, making sure plants are watered adequately, preferably in the morning, and using mulch to cool the soil are two steps you can take to reduce heat damage in your garden. Additionally, choosing plants that adapt to heat stress can relieve you of worry when temperatures get too high.

Native warm-season grasses are great ornamentals, have environmental benefits, and are heat tolerant. These grasses attract pollinators, provide food and shelter for wildlife, buffer rainwater, and stabilize the soil to reduce erosion. Many of these native grasses are deer resistant too! Adding some native grasses to your garden can provide valuable benefits and beautiful views to your space!

Most warm season grasses thrive in well-drained soil and full sun. They are also adapted to work well in hot temperatures, 80-95 degrees. They will do better if planted in the spring and do not need as much fertilizer. Any fertilization is best based on a soil test which will provide an analysis indicating any deficiencies. When placing seedlings, make sure not to plant them too deep. Spacing of warm-season grasses is also important, as some can grow widely when fully mature. Placing mulch around weeds will also help reduce weeds and conserve moisture.

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Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a warm-season perennial grass that grows to a height and spread of 2 to 5 feet. It is known to be able to live in a variety of soil types, from sandy to clay, and thrives in full sun, although it can handle shaded conditions. It is deer resistant and salt and drought tolerant. The grass has bluish-green leaves, red flowers from May to October, and yellow seed heads during late summer. Switchgrass is particularly good for erosion control and requires little to no fertilizer to grow. This grass is often resistant to pests and diseases when grown in the right conditions, especially if your garden attracts beneficial insects and has proper drainage.

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is a perennial native grass that thrives in full sun to divided shade areas. It can get quite tall, depending on the variety you plant, reaching 6-8 feet in height, and is particularly good at controlling erosion due to its extensive root system. Before planting and while it’s growing, make sure your Big Bluestem plant is away from competition so it can grow to its full potential. The color of this grass’s leaves can vary from light yellowish green to burgundy, with rough seed heads. Big Bluestem is deer-resistant, and blooms small green and red flowers from August to October, which attract butterflies and other pollinators and make great nesting habitat for many birds and mammals. This plant also has no serious disease or pest issues, making it a great low-maintenance and environmentally friendly ornamental plant.

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Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is another warm-season native grass that does best in full sun. It reaches 2-3 feet in height and spreads 1.5 to 2 feet. It is mostly used as an ornamental grass, with its name coming from its bluish-green, slender, flat leaves that are blue at the base. In August, it blooms with bronze-purple flowers that rise above the foliage. Seed heads develop in thin, silvery-white clusters that remain on the plant until winter. Little Bluestem is a source of food and habitat for songbirds and small mammals. Deer rarely like to graze on this grass, so damage to wildlife is generally minimal. Once this grass is established, it has a very deep root system which makes it useful for erosion control. Providing proper airflow will help reduce any disease problems.

Native grasses can provide environmental benefits as well as the aesthetics of any garden space. By choosing the right type for the right location, these grasses can thrive and continue to provide benefits to your area for many years to come, even as temperatures become too warm for some other plants. To source native grass for your space, contact your local garden centers to inquire about what they may have!

William Erickson is the agriculture and natural resources agent at Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Monmouth County. Erin Quinn is an intern at Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Monmouth County.

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