July is the hottest, toughest month for Rogue Valley plants—and their gardeners! Days are long, so the already high temperature stays high for longer periods of the day. It's important for all people and some plants to minimize their time in the sun. May we suggest some shade?
Most plants start shutting down metabolic activity when the temperature hits 86 degrees. The heat induced dormancy is a protection from water loss. But plants that don't have large root systems, like vegetable and flower starts and first year perennials, shrubs and trees have more difficulty than established plants that have acclimated to the temperatures.
Regular deep watering is usually all new trees and shrubs require to make it through the summer. Garden and vegetable plants might benefit from extra help. Shading offers protection to plants in distress, and will pay off in better food production or healthier ornamentals later.
Seed beds and small seedlings can be kept moist with floating row covers, a semi-permeable clear plastic that prevents rapid moisture loss from the soil surface—all the distance those baby roots have grown. Taller plants, or tender leaf crops like lettuce planted in full sun, would benefit from shade cloth. Pet areas can benefit from shade cloth too.
Shade cloth has come a long way from its ugly origins. Today it comes in different colors and in different weave densities, thus providing varying levels of sun protection. It is prepackaged in a variety of sizes, some with grommets to facilitate staking, or it can be cut to order at most garden centers. The specialty types are available online.
You want to be able to remove the shade cloth in August, or when the plant root system has grown deeper. In a small area, shade cloth can be supported by a frame of bamboo hoops and clothespins or garden stakes and a staple gun. For larger areas, a frame can be constructed of 1-by-2 inch furring strips, which sell at about $1 each, says Harry De Vore, customer service representative at Hubbard's Ace Hardware in south Medford. You'd want the frame to be at least 6 feet high, so you can work in the garden, he says.
"Keep it simple," says De Vore. "That's the main thing for the homeowner."
Sheets of lattice can also provide shade, but they need to be supported with a frame, and this is a more permanent set up. Lattice comes in wood and vinyl and in a variety of sizes, including 4-by-8 foot sheets that can be cut down to size.
Is it time to put a lid on your sun exposure? Hats come in an amazing array of styles and colors today, and many of them are rated for sun protection. Say goodbye to the floppy hats of yesteryear, today's hats have SPF numbers. Fifty is the highest that Nancy Christmann, owner of Hatscetera in Ashland, has seen. "We do have people who say that their dermatologist sent them," she says.
Holding a tightly woven palm hat to the window she demonstrates that no light can be seen passing through. "A hat with an open weave is a fashion hat," she says. A 4-inch brim is preferred, but "any hat is better than no hat."