As much as we love summer, the heat is not always welcome. Recent triple-digit weather gave us and our gardens a hot slap in the face, reminding us of many scorching days to come.
“When we hit a hot spell, people come in for fans,” said Ron Sharp, manager of Orchard Supply Hardware in Antelope. “We have the full array, from personal to big box to remote control to oscillating. That’s the first thing (people want when it gets hot); they need one and want more. When it gets hot, there’s always a huge demand for fans.”
Fans continue to be so popular because they’re a relatively fast and and easy way to at least feel cooler.
“Fans don’t cool air; all they do is move air,” Sharp said. “The air hitting you makes you feel cooler. Fans give you that sensation of coolness, like riding in a convertible with the top down. But to actually lower the ambient temperature inside your house, you need air conditioning.”
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Fans come in several shapes, sizes and prices.
“The difference in fans: The more expensive models are quieter,” Sharp said. “They have less vibration, can run at higher RPMs with less noise. The bigger the fan, the more air flow. Size and speed equal air flow.
“With that in mind, an old-school box fan is still a great deal,” he added. “For $15 to $20, they do a pretty good job for the price. The bottom line: Fan technology has improved, their quality has improved and the prices are down. Fans today are more balanced, more sophisticated, but they still do pretty much the same thing.”
Swamp coolers and evaporative coolers – “more old-school options” – are another option, Sharp said. “They’re still viable and a lot cheaper to use than most A/C units. They use water to cool the air down and can drop room temperature 10 degrees.”
Air conditioners also have benefited from technology, Sharp said. “They’re smaller, lighter, more efficient. You used to have huge, massive wall-mount A/C systems that took three people to lift.”
Popular right now are portable A/C units on wheels than can be rolled from room to room.
“They’re not big enough (to cool) the whole house, but you can take a room down 20 degrees,” Sharp said. “They’re not cheap ($500 and up), but they offer comfort, accessibility and ease of use.”
Plants also benefit from recent innovations for dealing with the heat.
“I like to use Wilt Stop,” said Greg Gayton of Green Acres Nursery & Supply. “Think of it as sunscreen for your plants. You don’t have to water as often and they do better in hot weather.”
Wilt Stop spray slows down leaf transpiration, how plants lose a lot of their moisture. It’s particularly effective on such wilt-prone plants as hydrangeas and fuchsias.
“It helps keep the moisture in the leaves,” Gayton said.
Plants can get sunburned, Gayton noted. “We see a lot of sun scald this time of year. Everybody wants to plant things in full sun, but a lot of plants – even sun lovers – can’t take that blasting heat.”
Peppers, for example, need afternoon shade on the hottest days or their fruit will blister and their leaves will brown. Burlap or shade fabric stretched over tomato cages can become their shady cabanas.
Container plants need special attention. They dry out faster in hot weather and need more water. They heat up faster, too. Pot feet – little blocks placed under pots – allow for air circulation and keep plants’ roots cooler. Inch-thick boards placed under pots also can insulate them from hot concrete. Remember to avoid blocking drainage holes.
Consistent soil moisture helps plants cope with summer heat. Gayton recommends Soil Moist, a polymer soil additive, as well as adding organic materials that hold onto moisture longer. Mulch on top of the soil helps, too, by lowering soil temperature and slowing evaporation.
“Always check your soil before watering,” Gayton said. “Use a soil probe and see if there’s still moisture 6 to 10 inches down where the roots are. Everybody thinks, ‘It’s 100 degrees, I’m thirsty, my garden must be thirsty, too.’ But people tend to overwater in summer. Roots can become waterlogged, and that can kill your plants, too.”