Plant Stress by PJ LaRue Smith
Temperatures in the 100 plus range coupled with no rainfall puts extreme stress on plants in the garden. An avid gardener often will go to great lengths to save the plants they’ve lovingly cared for over the years. While such measures can keep treasured plants alive, the gardener, focusing on their plants, will often neglect their own physical needs while outdoors.
Basically our needs are the same as those of the plants we tend – water, minerals, sunlight, and a preferred temperature range. What does a conscientious gardener do when a plant catches their eye at the garden center? Look for the tag and upon locating it, flip it over, and read what the plant requires in order to grow into a beautiful garden specimen. (Too bad we, ourselves, don’t come with such tags!)
Water, for example, is a primary part of both plant and animal. During the course of daily living plants transpire, and we perspire. Add excessive heat and the moisture loss is greater. Fail to replenish the moisture in a plant and it will first wilt, then die. Fail to drink water at regular intervals and we will do the same. Helpful Hint: Freeze a water bottle and carry it outside with you. Even better, get a drink holder that clips onto your belt loop – no having to walk somewhere to get your drink, plus, the added bonus of having coolness next to your body. It is important to note that many medications, such as diuretics (which affect the fluid balance in the body) and those for Parkinson’s disease (which inhibit perspiration) can impact a person’s ability to tolerate extreme heat. Use good judgment, don’t go outside during the hottest part of the day (10 AM – 5 PM here lately) and at the first sign of light-headedness, dizziness, or rapid heart rate, get out of the heat or into the shade.
Minerals are necessary for plants to grow and bear fruit. In us, minerals such as salt, potassium, and calcium contribute to the maintenance of proper heart rhythm and blood pressure. These essential minerals are lost through perspiration and urination. For those on diuretics, loss of these minerals are even more pronounced and increase the chances of succumbing to a heat related illness. Helpful Hint: Freeze drinks that contain minerals (Gatorade® for example) and alternate between drinking them and water.
Sunlight for plants is a critical component of photosynthesis, and for us, it aids in the absorption of vitamin D. But not all plants can tolerate full sun – if so planted, the shade loving plant’s leaves will curl up and die. The fair-skinned amongst us will turn red and blister (which, for reference, also inhibits perspiration). Even the most sun-loving of plants will appreciate a little respite from the blazing afternoon sun, just as those of us who turn a beautiful bronze will benefit from the use of a good sunscreen in the prevention of skin cancer. Helpful Hints: Wear a light colored hat (keeps your head cooler) and sunglasses when outdoors. Apply a “sweat-proof” sunscreen on all exposed parts of the body and reapply as needed.
Temperature, as it relates to plants, tends to only address the lowest tolerable temperature. However, extremely high temperatures can so stress a particular plant’s ability to recover from the moisture loss or intense heat that it dies. Even plants that have held up well over the years through all kinds of weather conditions may succumb this year. Just because heat has never been a problem for you in the past does not exclude you from its affects today or in the future. If you have ever experienced heat exhaustion, you will be more prone to heat related illness. If you have ever, as has this gardener, experienced heat stroke, you KNOW that “beating-the-heat” means taking care of yourself just as well as you take care of your plants!