Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
August, 2007
Regional Report

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Hot summer days are much more enjoyable with a bench in the shade next to a cooling fountain.

The Long Hot Summer

Over the last several weeks, my area has had intermittent days with the heat index hitting 109 degrees F, give or take a degree or two. Then, when a mild cool front went through, temperatures in the mid-90s felt like a relief. The effect of the bit of rain we had several weeks ago is long gone, so once more the year-long deficit of 6 inches is taking its toll. Even some of the mulched plantings are wilting in the heat of the day.

Thankfully, good garden practices and a minimum of watering have meant that most of the garden is still in pretty good shape, but, personally, I'm starting to wilt, and with the forecast for another 10 days or so of hot, dry weather, it's time to go over the precautions, procedures, and remedies for the blistering days of summer.

Keeping Your Cool
Our plants may be important to us, but its much more vital to take care of ourselves as well as anyone working with us. If possible, limit your time in the garden to the early morning hours and after 6 or 7 in the evening. Humid days are the worst, as your perspiration is less able to evaporate and release body heat. Any time you're working outdoors in the summer, wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and a hat with at least a 2-1/4-inch brim on all sides to shade both your face and your neck.

Always use a sun-protection aid with an SPF of 30. A wet bandana or special neck scarf with water-holding beads wrapped around your neck or head will help keep your cool. Drink some water, then more water, then more water again. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages. Mosquitoes and other biting insects are particularly troublesome in the evening, so be sure to use insect repellent then. Natural ones containing catnip oil are very effective.

Recognizing Heat-Related Illnesses
Hopefully, most people can limit their exposure to the heat of the day, but it's imperative to recognize the signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke.

Dehydration is caused when the body loses water as well as essential body salts, such as sodium, potassium, calcium bicarbonate, and phosphate. Some of the common symptoms of dehydration include thirst, less-frequent urination, dry skin, fatigue, light-headedness, dizziness, confusion, dry mouth and mucous membranes, and increased heart rate and breathing. In cases of mild dehydration, drinking fluids may be all you need to do. Many sports drinks on the market effectively restore body fluids, electrolytes, and salt balance. Cases of serious dehydration should be treated as a medical emergency, and hospitalization, along with intravenous fluids, is necessary. Immediate action should be taken.

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Warning signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, fainting, fast and weak pulse, fast and shallow breathing, and cool and moist skin. If the person has severe symptoms, heart problems, or high blood pressure, seek medical attention immediately. Otherwise, drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages, rest, take a cool shower or bath, get in an air-conditioned environment, and put on lightweight clothing.

Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat a lot. The sweating depletes the body's salt and moisture. This low salt level causes cramping, usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs. When cramps occur, stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool place, drink clear juice or a sports beverage, do not return to strenuous activity for at least a few hours, and seek medical attention if cramping does not subside in an hour.

Heat stroke is a form of hypothermia caused by abnormally elevated body temperature, and is a true medical emergency. Symptoms sometimes mimic those of a heart attack and may also include high body temperature; absence of sweating; hot, flushed dry skin; rapid pulse; difficulty breathing; strange behavior; hallucinations; confusion; agitation; disorientation; seizure; and coma. Notify emergency services (911) immediately and get the victim to a shady area, remove clothing, apply cool or tepid water to the skin, fan the skin, put ice packs under armpits and groin, and monitor body temperature until it drops to 101 to 102 degrees F.

Cooling the Landscape
Finally, it may be 110 in the shade, but it sure feels better than being out in the sun. Shade gardens seem mighty appealing at this time of year. If you don't have enough trees in your landscape, use this adversity as inspiration to plant some this fall or next spring. The shade from trees and shrubs not only will make you feel better, but when shading the house, they'll also reduce your cooling bills.

The addition of a water feature has both a literal and an emotional cooling effect. The best location is in the shade. There are dozens of options for fountains available, but one of the easiest ways to create a fountain is to choose a beautiful pot (either without drainage holes or with the hole plugged) and install a submerged pump with a bubbler attachment.

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