Stay Cool and Hydrated in the Garden

Some days, staying cool in the garden just means taking it easy.

During the long winter months, we dream of summer’s warmth. On hot summer days, when temperatures and humidity levels are somewhere north of eighty, we dream of holing up in a cool place.

But we are gardeners and that means we also can’t resist the siren song of the soil. Besides, everyone knows that crabgrass doesn’t care how hot and sticky it gets. In fact, it and its other weedy confederates redouble their evil schemes when gardeners are too hot to go out and pull them up. Winning at summer gardening means finding ways to beat the heat while tending the plants.

Work At Cool Times

Start work in the garden early, before the days heat up, and try to work in shade.

There’s a yin yang to successful hot weather horticulture. At sunny times of the day, always work in the shade. During cloudy intervals, tend non-shady areas. Wear sunscreen no matter what, because ultraviolet rays get through cloud cover even when it is overcast. Garden early, before things heat up and return to the garden late in the day, when temperatures descend. Longer hours of daylight make early evening gardening a pleasure. Garden chores are also a good excuse to let someone else do the dinner dishes.

When temperatures are high, keep the effort level low. Take a look at the five or seven- day weather forecast and save the heavy pruning, mulch spreading and hole digging for cooler days.

Water Wisdom

Sometimes a spritz with a hose is just what a gardener (or your kids) need to keep cool.

Beat the heat—or at least its worst effects—by keeping yourself hydrated while you work. Buy a fabric sun hat that you can soak in cold water, wring out and then wear in the garden. Make sure to wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothes. Garden fashion should always start with common sense.

Take advantage of nature’s generosity and work in the rain. As long as you avoid thunderstorms, you will be fine. It is also nice to take advantage of the hose or sprinkler for a quick refreshing spritz. Playing in the sprinker has never lost its charm with kids either. Placing a clean tarp beneath a sprinkler will keep their feet clean, and if set in close proximitiy to a bed, you have doubled the benefit.

Weeds pop our more easily during and just after heavy irrigation and rainstorms, so digging and dividing plants takes much less effort. Planting is easier too. Walk around beds and borders rather than through them, to avoid compacting wet soil.

Right Chores, Right Place

When it’s too hot to work in the hot sun, do other garden chores, like cleaning and sharpening your tools.

If you must work outside on a hot, sunny day, garden in small time increments. If tools are close at hand, you can accomplish a lot in ten or fifteen-minute spurts. This strategy works well for most garden chores and is especially good for those you hate.

If it is too hot to even move, think about what you can do indoors in an air-conditioned place. Repot container plantings or root cuttings in cool comfort. Store necessary tools and supplies like Fafard Ultra Container Mix With Extended Feed With Resilience™ indoors in a plastic tub. When you are ready, cover the designated work area with newspaper or oilcloth, bring out the supply tub and create some beautiful containers. When you are finished, simply drop the tools and supplies in the tub, shake out the newspaper or oilcloth and return the plants to their outdoor locations.

Cool, indoor locations are also good places to clean and sharpen tools, wash out plant containers and make plant labels. This is also a good time to clean up potting benches and organize garden supplies.

Another good activity for hot days is garden planning. When it was chilly last winter, you snuggled under an afghan and paged through online and print plant catalogs. Now, you can sit in the shade or the air conditioning and plan your fall containers, bed schemes, and vegetable plantings. By the time those plants arrive, it will be cool enough to get them into the ground.

About Elisabeth Ginsburg

Born into a gardening family, Elisabeth Ginsburg grew her first plants as a young child. Her hands-on experiences range from container gardening on a Missouri balcony to mixed borders in the New Jersey suburbs and vacation gardening in Central New York State. She has studied horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden and elsewhere and has also written about gardens, landscape history and ecology for years in traditional and online publications including The New York Times Sunday “Cuttings” column, the Times Regional Weeklies, Horticulture, Garden Design, Flower & Garden, The Christian Science Monitor and many others. Her “Gardener’s Apprentice” weekly column appears in papers belonging to the Worrall chain of suburban northern and central New Jersey weekly newspapers and online at She and her feline “garden supervisors” live in northern New Jersey.

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