Aging Systems and Extreme Temperatures Lead to Plant Dehydration

By Eddie Rodieck

Tucson and other areas of Arizona have been experiencing record highs this summer. In fact, Tucson is experiencing some of the highest temperatures it has seen in the last 130 years. Temperatures as high as 120° F have people sticking to the indoors or rushing to the pool. Unfortunately, your outdoor plants and trees cannot move indoors and must stick out the heat. This can mean bad news for plants, but the good news is there are steps you can take to keep them healthy even during the hottest weather.

Wilted Plants

Whether potted or planted in the ground, plants will frequently wilt when temperatures climb. Leaves can droop and flowers can dry up completely, leaving your yard looking fried and killing your plants. Wilting is a sign of distress in plants. When a plant begins to wilt, it means the plant’s roots are not able to supply as much water as the leaves need to function.

With high temperatures, you will see certain “marker plants” begin to fade first as a sign that more water is needed. Salvias will begin to wilt and lantanas will start to lose their color. This is especially true with the types of extremes we are seeing this summer. In high heat, roots often fail to locate proper water reserves to draw upon in order to meet the plant’s requirements. Prolonged exposure to direct, hot sun and dry soil conditions can greatly exacerbate wilting. Conditions such as high humidity, soil with poor drainage and poor nutrition, and roots that are not deep enough in the ground can also lead to wilting or make it worse.

Wilting Prevention

In order to give your plants the best protection against wilting, soil preparation while installing plants with mulch and soil amendments is key. In addition to soil preparation, install plants where they will do their best. Planting something that requires shade in full sun will lead to wilting and, ultimately, plant death. You will need to keep an eye on newly planted varieties to watch for wilting as an early sign that more water is required. Well-designed and properly functioning irrigation systems are also paramount to preventing dehydration.

Saving Wilted Plants

Regular watering schedules of three times a week for 2 ½ to three hours are not effective in the type of heat we are currently experiencing. For plants to survive the extreme temperatures mother nature is throwing at us, you will need to increase your watering schedule to four or five times a week for 2 ½ to three hours, preferably in the night or early morning hours.

By deeply watering your plants several times a week rather than brief, frequent watering, you will provide enough water for growing plant roots to supply moisture to your plants. Emitters should be installed beyond the canopy of the plant.

If your plants do wilt, be sure to give them a little TLC and lots of extra water. Your plants will need time to recover so don’t tear them out right away. While wilting is a signal they are in distress, wilting is also a survival technique for your plants that they can completely recover from.

Aging Systems Cause Problems

The last time Tucson experienced such a length of extreme temperatures was about 10 years ago. With that in mind, irrigation and drip systems that are older do not function as effectively as they did when first installed. Extreme temperatures and aging irrigation systems are exasperating the problem with plants getting enough water. Failing systems can lead to evasive roots, cracks or leaks in piping and tubing, all of which lead to less water reaching your plants causing you to water more frequently to compensate. Component failure such as bad timers can also result in plant death when watering schedules are off or fail to water at all.

Be sure to check your irrigation and drip systems regularly from your timer to every sprinkler head and emitter. Cherry Landscape recommends having a complete evaluation of your irrigation system completed annually to ensure everything is in working order. If you need assistance with performing an evaluation of your watering system, an estimate for installing a new system, or simply need help setting your timer, call Cherry Landscape at (520) 292-9776.