This is the time of year when our gardens can get a little less than crisp and fresh looking due to the summer heat. Our discussion this time will touch on a few ways to keep the garden looking spring fresh (sounds like a soap commercial) even during the hottest time of the year. So put on your sunscreen and let's take a walk in the garden.
During a time of year that seems better suited for cactus and tropical rainforest plants than lawns, roses, or most any popular ornamental plant our gardens can show signs of heat stress. Fear not, my friends, we have ways of making your garden very happy during this part of the year. By far the easiest and most effective way of keeping your garden looking fresh is to conserve soil moisture and the best way to do this is to insulate your soil from the direct rays of the sun with a layer of organic compost.
The compost layer works as a sponge to trap and save irrigation water from running off of your garden while it protects the soil from releasing its water to the atmosphere from evaporation. It is this evaporation of water from the soil that makes summer heat so tough on the precious plants in your garden. As the sun beats down on bare soil it just cooks the water right out of it. This harsh drying of the soil surface can also result in a "crusting" of the very surface of your soil so that it has difficulty absorbing water or actually repels water. This can be devastating to your garden causing you plants to stress each hot day during the warmest part of the day.
When plants wilt due to this heat, tissue damage is done, and each time this occurs the plants become weaker and more susceptible to further problems with vigor. When plants are stressed for any reason they emit chemicals that many pest insects are sensitive to. Heat stress can also bring about insect and disease pest problems because as Darwin so brilliantly observed, nature picks on the weak. Insect pests especially like to pick on plants that are weakened and will put them into a tailspin in short order. The key to keeping your garden free of these rascals during the hottest part of the year is to manage your watering and the timing of irrigation.
Runoff water is a real problem for many home gardeners that live where soils are clay, silty clays, silt, or sandy silt. Runoff can also be a problem for owners of new homes where the soils have been mechanically compacted. Runoff water is also one of the most wasteful uses of our household dollars. When water runs off of the garden it is wasted. Considering the cost of water these days this is not an efficient use of our household budgets. Runoff water also carries nutrients off of the garden soil with it that pollutes our local streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans with excessive nutrient loads that cause algae blooms or harmful types of bacteria that affect water clarity and have a very negative affect on our recreational fun. However, by far the most horrible consequence of runoff water is how it affects the natural ecology of these aquatic environments. A layer of organic compost over the top of your soil will significantly reduce the occurrence of runoff water escaping from your garden thus reducing your impact on your regional ecosystems.
So fellow dirt scratchers, it is obvious that protecting your soil from this information that a layer of organic compost does much more than just keep your soil protected from direct exposure to the sun. It keeps valuable plant nutrients in your garden where they belong, conserves and makes more efficient use of your irrigation water by preventing runoff, and it protects your regional aquatic resources.
And that's not all, organic compost placed on your soil regularly also builds the overall quality of your soil and feeds the billions of beneficial microorganisms that help to increase humus formation while it also feeds such valuable garden friends as earthworms. So the moral of this story is that if you want to keep your garden crisp and growing vigorously during the hottest time of the year it always a good idea to put down some compost to protect your plants, your soil, your wallet, and the environment.