How to protect plantings from high heat and hot sun

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Q. My young lettuces and peas fried in the hot sun this year. I think it was the early, high heat in May that hit the plants hard while they were still young. Carrot germination was almost non-existent. I expect next year will be the same. I’d appreciate some ideas on protecting plantings from high heat and hot sun.

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A. Most gardens suffered similar setbacks during this growing season. My carrots and peas did not stand up well to the early heat. I’m planning to have materials ready next spring to keep plants growing through the heat. They fall into two categories: shade and mulch.

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I saved my young kale transplants by propping large sheets of cardboard upright with stakes, on the south side of the planting, creating shade and some cooling as the plants took hold.

For a while I tried old, light curtaining supported over plantings, but finally decided to try some proper shade cloth. Many garden centres carry it, in various colours. It is graded by the degree of shade it creates. Ideally that is 50 per cent shade.

I suspended the shade cloth over a row of lettuces and endive, which thrived with this protection through very hot days. I’ll be acquiring more of this material to place over the seeded carrot and pea beds and over onion transplants.

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For cooling the soil and helping to retain moisture, I’ll have mulching materials on hand. What I’ve found to be most effective is a generous layer of a nourishing compost, topped by a light, cooling mulch like straw or small or shredded leaves — all applied as air and soil temperatures begin warming.

Place the materials alongside rows of developing plants, and under and around large plants like squash, staked tomatoes, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Water deeply before the mulching, and check soil moisture levels regularly by inserting a trowel or narrow-bladed shovel into the soil near plantings and levering it forward. Feel the soil for moisture.