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Don't let your plants fry

If outdoor plants could feel dread, it would come this week.

The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory for Friday through Sunday in southwest Oregon and parts of Northern California, with high temperatures of 100 to 110 degrees forecast during the stretch. 

Yes, it'll be hot. The good news is it's not necessarily a death sentence for backyard flora. Flowers, vegetables and other plants can actually do quite well in the heat, provided gardeners take some necessary steps. Whether it's sensitive vegetables like leafy greens or plants like agave and yucca that are better equipped for triple-digit stretches, they all have a shot. 

"The will to live in plants is inspiring," says Rhianna Simes, Master Gardener outreach coordinator at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center. "They want to live. They want to do well. It's just a matter of us creating those conditions (where) they do best."

Simes says mulch is one key to helping plants thrive in the heat. Many materials can be used as mulch, including wood chips, bark, straw, leaves, plastic sheeting or stone. Mulch keeps the soil in shadow, which helps cool the dirt and keep moisture in the ground.

"You want to make sure that the soil is staying cool and that the plants have a chance to take up that moisture," Simes says. "It creates a physical barrier, as well as feeding the soil microbes that will also help maintain moisture."

Temporary shade structures can also help.

"Ideally (that) would be a small piece of shade cloth or a screen, but you could also use a white pillowcase with two small pieces of bamboo to cast a shadow," Simes says.

And don't eliminate the shadows that are already there, Simes says. Limbing trees too quickly can leave the bark unprotected from the sun's rays.

"We really encourage people to limb up the tree slowly or just a third at a time," Simes says. "Those lower leaves really protect the bark."

Watering should be done during the early-morning hours when plants will lose less moisture to evaporation, Master Gardeners say.

Around dusk, growers can give a light watering — or a "cool down" — to plants that seem a bit dried out from the day. 

"People want to be efficient with their water, and they want to be water-wise, but we see a lot of times people are in a hurry when they water, and so they're not watering adequately," Simes says, adding irrigation methods during the summer months need to be, well, fluid.

"Irrigation is not something that you turn on and then you walk away for the season. It needs to be adjusted. It's really a work in progress."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Rhianna Simes, Master Gardener outreach coordinator at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center waters the center's succulent garden. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell