Beating the heat

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The Green File - Mark Cullen

It is mid-summer and someone forgot to turn the heat up. 

Mark Cullen gardens his garden at home, something he discusses in depth in this week’s The Green File column. 

The hot and sticky days of summer that we normally experience are not my favourite for working in the garden, so I am not unhappy about the cooler than usual weather. 

The cool evenings and regular intervals of rain notwithstanding, there is no reason to have to rush home to water the lawn and garden. Alas, there really should be no need.  We rush home to fix dinner, let the dog out and feed the fish. Hydrating the hydrangeas should not be on your list of things to dash home for.

One thing that I can predict with some certainty is that the long, warm days of mid-summer are always followed by the cooler evening temperatures and shorter days of August. Heavy morning dew provides the ideal conditions for starting fresh grass seed and laying sod. You can get at this job any day now.

If we do hit a short dry spell you may have garden plants that are wilting before your eyes. Some plants speak to us by drooping their leaves like a child who drags their knuckles on the kitchen floor, pouting for another cookie. Plants pout too. My rudebeckia and hydrangeas pout all of the time when it is hot and dry. Like a responsible parent, I don’t always pay attention. Put another way, I don’t choose to ignore them, I just don’t respond to them in a panic. 

When you do water your garden do it between sun set and sunrise as much of the water that passes through your lawn sprinkler mid day is lost to evaporation. Water deeply.  Apply H2O using a slow-mo device. I made this word up to describe the wide variety of great products that are on the market designed to slowly eek water to the root zone of plants. These are designed to be economical [as they save you water] and effective [as they move water to the root zone of plants, where it is needed]. Some of the slo-mo products include:

Weeping hoses. A hose with perforations in it that allows water to seep out slowly, not in a stream but more like a sponge that oozes water when it is full.  Weeping hoses are made of either a tough synthetic fabric or recycled rubber. Both work best when they are buried under 4 to 6 cm. of bark mulch.  I prefer the fabric ones as they last longer under the extraordinary hose pressure that I have at my place. 


Heart Breaker.  This is a Canadian designed water sprinkler that pulverizes the water into a mist and delivers it low, in a circular pattern and without a ‘hallow’ effect [where a portion of the ground beneath the water being applied is missed, creating a doughnut of dryness surrounded by wet]. Look for the Mark’s Choice line up at Home Hardware.


In-ground watering systems.  Watch out for these as they can waste more water than a leaky faucet. If you own one, I recommend that you turn off the timer, unless it is one of the new ‘smart timers’ that knows when it is raining and the ground is already wet. One of my pet peeves is to see lawn sprinklers blasting away while the rain is pouring down. This happens in industrial parks all of the time.

Turn on your in-ground lawn and garden sprinklers when the ground is dry, not until.  And, I repeat, turn your lawn watering system off during a drought.  It just does not make sense to try to keep a lawn active when it wants to sleep.


Oxygen. Forgive me for saying this once before, but it is important to know [and most people don’t] that all plants need oxygen at their root zone. When the soil around their roots dries out, the spaces between soil particles are filled with air [oxygen] and the roots are allowed to breath. This is a very good thing. Odd as it may sound, more plants are killed by overwatering than underwatering. I have learned this based on more than a few years of retail gardening. I use rain-barrel water on all of my container plants and I think that their performance demonstrates the benefits very well. 

Wacky weather patterns aside, do your garden and yourself a favour by watering smartly and only when (and where) absolutely necessary.


Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday morning at 8:40.  He is spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden.  Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at


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Recent comments

  • American national
    August 12, 2014 - 13:57

    Great article. If water systems are maintained, set on timers and professionally installed there should be no water waste. In fact, the property should be conserving water by setting timers on early mornings for limited times. The installer should set up system to avoid driveways and other areas that do not require water. In the end a good water irrigation system is a water & money saver.