The dog days of summer are upon us! The mercury is climbing, and the veggies are drooping. But don’t get out that watering can just yet! As tempting as it is to turn on the irrigation, those wilting leaves don’t always mean that the soil is dry.
Plants wilt when they feel the need to conserve water. When plants “breathe” they lose water through their leaves in a process called transpiration. When their leaves lose rigidity and hang down, they are reducing their leaves surface area, and that means that there is less area from which their leaves can lose water.
While all plants will wilt when their soil is dry, they can also wilt when they are just plain hot. This is especially true for large-leaved plants such as squashes and melons, as they have so much surface area to protect from water loss by transpiration.
If you see your plants wilting in the hot summer sun, don’t run to the water spigot! Before using up precious water on plants that might not even need it, check their soil’s moisture levels. You can either use a moisture meter, or you can stick your finger a few inches deep in the soil and see if it’s moist. If it’s definitely dry, give those plants a drink!
The best time to water your plants – for their health and for water conservation – is in the early morning. If your soil is drying out a few inches below the surface by midday, increase the length of time you water in the morning. Mulching around your plant also helps reduce soil evaporation.
If your soil is still moist in the midday heat, but the plants are drooping in the heat, don’t worry! Unless there is something else wrong with your plants, such as bacterial wilt, they should spring right back up again once it cools off in the evening.