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July is here, along with intense heat and relentless sun, posing a fresh weather challenge for Front Range gardeners. However, with a bit of strategy and care, you can keep your plants healthy even as temperatures approach triple digits. Here are some practical ways to provide shade, conserve moisture, and nurture your garden throughout the hot summer months. 

Provide Shade

  • Install Temporary Shade Structures: When the sun is already scorching, quickly set up temporary shade structures using umbrellas, old bed sheets, or cardboard. These can be placed over sensitive plants during the peak heat of the day. Ensure they are securely anchored to withstand wind.
  • Use Shade Cloths: If you have shade cloths on hand, now is the time to use them. Drape them over stakes or a simple frame structure over your garden beds. A cloth with 30-50% density is ideal for vegetables, reducing sun stress without inhibiting growth.
  • Move Potted Plants: For plants in containers, move them to a shadier spot during the hottest part of the day. This flexibility allows you to protect them from excessive sun exposure.

Conserve Moisture

  • Mulch Immediately: Apply a thick layer of organic mulch, such as straw or dried grass clippings around your plants. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds. If you haven’t mulched yet, doing so now can provide immediate benefits.
  • Adjust Watering Techniques: Water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth. Early morning is the best time to water, allowing plants to absorb moisture before the day heats up. If you notice plants wilting in the afternoon, a light misting can help reduce stress, but avoid heavy watering during peak heat to prevent evaporation. Note: plants with large leaves, such as squash, normally wilt during the heat of the day and should recover when temperatures cool at night.
  • Utilize Ollas: Ollas are unglazed, porous clay pots buried in the soil, which slowly release water directly to the roots. This ancient watering method is incredibly effective in hot climates. Fill the ollas with water, and they will gradually seep moisture into the surrounding soil, providing consistent hydration to your plants.

Nurture Your Plants

  • Monitor and Respond to Stress Signs: Keep a close eye on your plants for signs of heat stress, such as wilting, yellowing leaves, and slowed growth. Increase shading, watering, or mulching efforts as needed to mitigate these symptoms. Cultivate plants each week by pushing the mulch back and lightly using the edge of a hoe to break the surface of the soil. This promotes deeply rooted plants that can better survive drought and heat conditions.
  • Feed Your Plants: Heat-stressed plants may benefit from a light feeding. Use a balanced, water-soluble, organic-based fertilizer to provide essential nutrients that can help them cope with stress. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can exacerbate stress.
  • Prune Wisely: Prune any damaged or diseased leaves to prevent them from sapping energy from the healthy parts of the plant. Be careful not to over-prune, as this can expose more of the plant to direct sunlight.

Additional Tips

  • Create Windbreaks: Hot, dry winds can exacerbate moisture loss. If you have materials available, create windbreaks using burlap, lattice, or other breathable materials. This can help protect your garden from drying winds.
  • Group Plants Together: If possible, group plants with similar water needs together. This makes irrigation more efficient and ensures that each plant receives the right amount of water without wastage.
  • Hydrate Yourself: Don’t forget about your own well-being. Gardening in the heat can be exhausting, so stay hydrated, wear a hat, and take breaks in the shade.
While gardening in Colorado’s intense summer sun requires a bit of extra effort, especially once the heat is already upon you, the payoffs of these long intense days mean your efforts will soon be coming to fruition (pun intended!).  By providing shade, conserving moisture, and nurturing your plants with care, you can keep your garden happy and productive to enjoy a bountiful harvest and a beautiful, resilient garden throughout the summer.