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It’s that time again, late summer and early fall in Southern California when heat may reach 100ºF for days or weeks at a time in inland areas, and even exceed 110ºF during heatwaves or for extended periods in the warmest Southern-California areas.
This is the 1st in a series of articles with my precautions, tips, and advice for hot weather gardening in Southern California from midsummer through fall. See below for links to other articles in the series.
Hot weather and high temperatures can be dangerous. Safety precautions are important including sun protection, hydration, working mornings or evenings when temperatures are cooler, avoiding exertion and working for short periods only, and having indoor cooling environments available.
Home gardening is one of the safest and most-rewarding activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. For other helpful articles, see our blog page Dig In.
I’m writing this article in mid-August of 2020. After a few short periods of hot summer weather, a long heatwave has finally arrived. We’ve had a solid week of temperatures near or above 100ºF and up to about 114ºF in inland areas within and near Los Angeles. Highs are forecast from mid-90s to 110ºF or higher for as far as the 10-day forecast can see.
Seasonally hot weather is the reality of summer and early fall in California’s inland areas, especially in Southern California’s inland and desert areas. For my articles describing the 5th season in hot-summer California areas, see See Summer and Summerer.
With climate change, the future looks even hotter. It appears inevitable that the high heat of summer and fall in Southern California will persist and worsen in coming decades.
For gardeners working in hot climates, our English gardening lexicon lacks sufficient terminology. We use the definition “gardening outdoors during high heat or even during insanely brutal heat” without the right term to match. It seems prudent to correct this gap in terminology lest we find ourselves outdoors sweating like mad and without the words we need. We could adopt the utilitarian “hot gardening” but that seems plain to me.
Many of my readers who are active and health-conscious may recognize the term “Bikram Yoga,” a form of yogic practice that’s conducted at hot temperatures of about 105ºF and with moderate or high humidity. For those unfamiliar with Bikram Yoga, it may surprise you that some people, and even a lot of people, actually pay class fees to put themselves through physical workouts at high temperatures. In an informal survey over the past few weeks, I found that many of my clients in Southern California are aware of this form of yoga, and some have tried it.
So, both humorously and seriously, I propose the term “Bikram Gardening” for the orphaned definition above. As I said in the Summerer post linked above, where is the joy and meaning in life if you don’t make up a word, or in this case a phrase, now and then?
Bikram Gardening is gardening with the sun like a physical weight on your shoulders and back, gardening with the exercise and the sauna occurring at the same time, gardening drenched in sweat and that requires drinking water by the quart and gallon, gardening to do whatever possible to help plants and trees that are stressed by heat, gardening to make one regret every bit of carbon humanity has released into Earth’s atmosphere.
In hot-summer California areas, the period of high heat from mid-or-late-summer until weather cools during fall is the slowest period of the year for gardening. Most plants and trees are stressed by the heat, and it’s uncomfortable for most of us to be outdoors. Gardeners vary in their tolerance for heat; for some of us it may be dangerous to go outdoors even briefly during hot temperatures, and others may welcome or enjoy working in the heat.
Plants also vary in their tolerance for heat; some may require constant monitoring, lots of extra water, and significant attention while others may need nothing at all.
Most plants and trees have special needs during prolonged hot weather. Wilting and even plant death can occur rapidly. Pest-and-disease infestations often develop rapidly and become acute during heat waves. Hot-weather gardening is primarily focused on helping plants survive and stay healthy as much as possible, but harvest of some vegetables can be extended during hot periods, and a range of tasks and projects are possible or important for gardeners who are able to tolerate heat. With careful attention, some plants may survive weeks of hot weather and return to being productive again when temperatures cool.
Many readers know that temperatures above 70ºF or 80ºF aren’t for them, and we know that very-hot temperatures can be dangerous, but some of us may be adopting the attitude that hot weather is intolerable simply because that’s what others believe. I’ll use myself as an example.
As a professional arborist, gardener, and landscape expert I have a unique history and relationship with hot weather. Like many of us, I dread the onset of Southern California’s high heat in summer, and I often arrange work for myself indoors during high heat. I reset my outdoor work schedule during hot weather for early-morning and morning appointments as much as possible.
After decades of working outdoors, I also seem to have a degree of resistance to hot weather, and provided that I stay alert and take basic safety precautions, working outdoors in hot weather is manageable for me personally.
On a recent workday that was already hot midway through my first appointment at 8:00AM, all my appointments ran long and I found myself working into mid-afternoon with temperatures climbing relentlessly. By afternoon, at or above 110F, after several hours in the heat, I was still working hard, soaked in sweat, and drinking water by the quart.
While I would never have planned such an extreme Bikram Gardening session for myself, to my surprise, I found that I enjoyed my workday no less than usual despite the heat, and there was a degree of triumph, satisfaction, and simple enjoyment in continuing to work, hour after hour, in the heat. While precautions are important, it is possible for most of us to step outdoors during hot weather and some may find that Bikram Gardening at no extra charge is preferable to Bikram Yoga.
Future articles in this series will discuss preparing your plants, trees, and garden for hot weather; sensitive plants and what can be done for them; and tasks, tips, and tricks during high heat. But first, it’s important to prepare yourself for working outdoors during hot weather. See the next article in this series, “Hot Weather Gardening Part 2: Mindset and Acclamation.”
GardenZeus has plenty of information to help you grow both edibles and ornamentals in California. To receive customized growing information for your area, click here.
Articles of interest for gardening during heat include:
GardenZeus recommends Botanical Interests as an excellent source of quality seed. Order now for planting in the fall after the weather cools.