Adventures in Gardening: Hot Stuff

by David Soper

In the face of extraordinary temperatures in much of the nation, questions arise about what to do in gardens to salvage as much as you can.

The most practical thing you can do right now is to apply mulch. On hot, dry summer days, mulch retains moisture much better than soil therefore reducing the volume of water needed at a time when water in your area might be in short supply. In really hot areas, the sun bakes the nutrients out of the mulch so repeat mulching is the order of the day.

Texas-based garden writer/lecturer Liz Druitt tells me she often mulches four times a season to keep organic matter available to the plants and the roots as cool as possible.

Different areas of the country have different mulch materials available to gardeners. Here are some effective ones:

  • Buckwheat hulls. This fine-textured mulch has a distinctive brown color. It has one problem, that being its weight. If you use it in windy areas it is likely to blow away. This is particularly true when you first apply it. After it ages a bit it, like us, tends to stay put more. Under mild conditions, it can last up to three years. Apply it to a depth of three inches.

  • Cocoa shells, a.k.a. cocoa-bean hulls or cocoa hulls. This is a more expensive mulch, if you can find it at all. When you first apply it, you will smell the delightful scent of chocolate but the smell doesn't last. Cosmetically, it is a very attractive product with a rich brown color and a nice texture of small particles. It does leach a little nitrogen as it breaks down, so plan on supplementing. It also is vulnerable to wind.

  • Compost usually can't be produced in sufficient quantities at home to fully do the job. Still the organic benefits to the soil cannot be exaggerated. In most areas, compost is available in bulk or bag. In lots of places it is the product of a community "clean green" or recycle programs. You should apply compost to a depth of four inches to do the job and will need, as previously mentioned, to repeat the job during hot spells.

  • Pine straw is attractive and free of weeds. This is a truly superior mulch product. The straw resists compaction which means better water infiltration into the soil.

  • Salt hay comes in bales where it is available (mainly coastal regions) and is dried salt marsh grasses. This is a good, see- free all around mulch. It will break down so needs reapplication. It is also somewhat flammable so watch the smokers.

Next week, we'll talk about some plants that like it hot! Good luck and great gardening.

David Soper, The Garden Guy, writes and lectures on gardening topics. Check out his books at

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  • Gardening on the cheap is simple. Just visit the TDS Frugal Gardening Guide and we'll show you the many ways frugal gardeners maintain beautiful, bountiful gardens for less.
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