Intense Heat Waves Are the New Normal. How Can IGCs Help Gardeners Cope?
This summer has been hot. Very hot. Too hot—2023 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record, and a new report suggests that this summer’s heat waves would not be possible without climate change. In response to the havoc increasingly hot summers have wreaked across the western US, three states have agreed to cut water usage in the lower Colorado River Basin by 13%, which will likely “trigger significant water restrictions on the region’s residents and farmland.” At the same time, millions of people derive joy, a sense of pride, physical fitness, and even nourishment from their personal gardens. What can independent garden centers do to help these gardeners and their gardens flourish in these conditions?
First of all, we have to help gardeners use water more responsibly. Your first instinct might be to water plants more often in extreme heat, and that’s the right move. But we’ve also got to be conscious of waste. Just passing a hose over your plants every day won’t cut it, even in ideal climate conditions, as much of that water never reaches the plants’ roots. Wind will carry it away, it will land on parts of the soil where there are no plants, and water falling on leaves may expose plants to greater risk of disease.
The most effective way for gardeners to make use of this increasingly precious natural resource is through drip irrigation systems. Much less water is wasted—the commonly cited number is 90% efficiency vs. 35-70% for sprinkler systems—and automated systems can reduce gardeners’ exposure to heat, as they don’t have to stand outside with a hose.
Improvements to soil quality and the use of mulch can also help gardeners conserve water. Mulch reduces the amount of water lost through evaporation, trapping water in the soil and ensuring more reaches root systems. It also has an insulating effect on soil, absorbing heat and keeping the soil cooler. Look into stocking mulch specifically designed for water retention.
Provide Shade for Plants
Shade cloths or canopies can reduce plants’ exposure to direct sunlight. Keep in mind that the air isn’t actually cooler in the shade. On the contrary, it is exposure to the sun that makes it feel hotter than it is because you are feeling the air temperature plus the heat of direct sunlight. Plants feel that difference, too. In addition, many types of plants benefit from shade anyway, so shade cloths and canopies can help them continue to thrive during a succession of blisteringly hot, cloudless days.
Heat Protection for Gardeners
It is not only plants that will need protection. Gardeners will, too. As mentioned above, drip irrigation systems can help gardeners reduce the time they spend under the sun. But when they are outside watering by hand, weeding, applying mulch, planting, or harvesting fruits and vegetables, they will need protection. Just about every garden center stocks wide-brimmed sun hats, but it might also be prudent to stock sunscreen.
Talk to Your Customers
Look out for your customers’ wellbeing. Ask them at what time of day they tend their garden and how they’re handling the heat. Suggest getting outside early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the hottest parts of the day. Remind them to stay hydrated and protected. These things go a long way to establishing relationships and making good impressions on customers. It’s also what a good neighbor would do, and as a local independent business, that’s what you should be striving to be. You are part of their community, and it’s one of your greatest advantages over big-box garden centers.
IGCs Are Here to Help
Under normal circumstances, gardeners would be able to just wait out a heat wave, which would last two or three days, a week at most. But extreme weather, including higher highs across the length of the summer, seem to be the new normal. Independent garden centers are well-positioned to educate gardeners and help them stay safe and fulfilled in their gardens.