Dog Days of Summer

Originally published July 2011

Canis Major

As I walked outside a few moments ago I was reminded of why in north Texas we have the saying there are two growing seasons. Summer is definitely NOT one of them! In fact, all of my plants are struggling just to survive – let alone grow or develop.

This week we are under a heat advisory in the Dallas area due to the daytime temps reaching over 100 degrees and, with combined humidity conditions, the heat index reaching over 105 degrees. We have entered the dog days of summer.

Dog days of summer is a phrase that describes the hottest, most sultry days of the year. In the northern hemisphere it is usually considered the time period from early July to September – lasting about 6 -7 weeks. The name of this time period derives from ancient times and relates to the “dog star”, Sirius. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky and helps form the constellation Canis Major, or Large Dog. Early Roman, Greek and Egyptian astronomical observers believed when Sirius’ path moved across the sky to be in close proximity to the sun, its brightness coupled with the sun’s brightness would increase the heat placed upon earth. It just so happens that for approximately 20 days prior to and 20 days after Sirius’ conjunction with the sun (usually in very late July) the dog days in the northern hemisphere are indeed in full force.

During the dog days of summer in the gardening and landscaping world, your focus must move from flower and fruit production to helping your greenery merely survive. In my experience of having a small vegetable garden every year, I have learned to accept that in the heat of summer, lasting up to 6 weeks here in North Texas, my tomato plants will discontinue blooming as well as will my squash, cantaloupe, peppers, and any other plant I may have in the bed. Most flowers, such as petunias and rose bushes will also discontinue blooming, reserving their energy, again, for survival.

If you happen to lose a few plants during the dog days of summer, don’t become discouraged. It is just nature. I lost all of my cucumber plants this year because I planted them later in the spring than my other vegetables and they did not have enough time to become established in the soil or adapt to summer sun conditions before the extreme heat kicked in. I’m disappointed, but I know that I can try seedlings again in “the second growing season” come late August and may be fortunate enough to produce one harvest of cukes before winter.

Until that “second season”, below are a few quick tips to consider helping get your plants through the dog days of summer:

  • Water hanging baskets and pots twice per day – early morning and early evening. The heat coupled with the wind will dry these plants out far more quickly than those in ground.
  • If you can, move your pots and baskets to an area in your yard that gets some relief from the sun in the afternoon. Once the dog days have passed, you can slowly introduce your pots back into their original spots.
  • Use shade cloths for vegetables that may still have fruit on the vine as we enter these hot, hot months. You may be able to salvage some of your bounty!
  • Water or irrigate your landscape during the very early morning hours before the sun rises and when the winds are usually a bit calmer.
  • During high winds, utilize ground or drip irrigation if possible to avoid evaporation and/or leaf burn. It is very important, especially if you are growing succulents, that you do not water during sunlight hours if you are utilizing overhead sprinklers. Excessive water left on the leaves of succulents, such as begonias and impatiens, will literally magnify the sun’s rays and burn up your plants! These ornamentals should always be watered at ground level.
  • With observance of drought watering policies that are in effect in most of our communities, you may be restricted to the number of days you can water your landscapes. This is not a bad thing! It is far more efficient to water ground plants deeply and less often than to water them sparingly every day. Deep, less often watering encourages healthy root formation and ensures your soil remains moist longer.
  • Do not fertilize during the dog days of summer. Remember, this is a time of maintaining – not a time of attempting to produce new growth, blooms or fruit.

What can we take away from this philosophically? Several themes –

Appreciate Perseverance: It is rarely ever too late to accomplish a goal. Hold tight through a bad time and focus on maintaining until you can get your feet back on the ground. Some things we can’t control, like Mother Nature, and so we have to resign to do the best we can during a storm and understand that maintaining is a form of success. After the storm passes, we can resume our path.

Take Advantage of Second and Third Chances: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. If you weren’t successful at maintaining a particular plant or you inadvertently overindulged it with sunlight or fertilizer, re-sow those seedlings in the late summer or next spring. Sometimes conditions are simply better the second or third time around.

Everything in Moderation:  When work or home life is extra stressful, instead of allowing it to be all-consuming – take a break. Sometimes we have to shade ourselves from the life-giving, but harmful-in-high-doses, sunshine.

Until next time,


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