Sunscreen for Plants

Summer is officially here. With it comes Nevada’s famous (or infamous) sunny, hot weather, which can be hard on plants. Since our area is above 4,000 feet in elevation, the sun and ultraviolet rays can be quite fierce. While we lather ourselves with sunscreen and put on protective clothing to shield us from the sun’s burning rays, is protection from the sun necessary for plants?

The answer is that it depends on the plant, its stage of growth and how long it has been in its location. Hopefully, your landscape is filled with plants adapted to our climate, particularly the low humidity, heat, wind and extreme sun. However, I think all gardeners have been guilty, at one time or another, of putting in plants that are borderline adapted here because we just couldn’t resist them. Mature adapted plants should survive the heat and sun of summer just fine, if irrigated appropriately. Plants that are less summer-hardy include things such as rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas, Japanese maples and more. These definitely need shade and, if not planted on the north side of a building or in a sheltered area, will need some summer sun protection. New seedlings are very tender and should be shaded from the hottest sun in the middle to latter portion of the day until they are hardy enough to stand it. In addition, recently planted shrubs, flowers and veggie plants may need shelter until they have hardened off a bit and adapted to their new site.

One solution to sheltering seedlings and young plants is not to plant them during the heat of summer. Sounds simple, but few of us can resist the nurseries and their floral offerings from now until September. A more realistic solution is to baby seedlings and plants by covering them against the burning sun.

One gardener I know shades her lettuce plants with landscape cloth, since lettuce prefers cooler weather and less sun. I have used lawn chairs strategically placed over young plants to give them respite from the sun. Umbrellas work, if you can find a way to stabilize them in the wind! I usually attach them to a beach chair to shade my plants. Sheer curtains are a gardener’s treasure. Not only can they provide shade, but they also can keep aphids off plants. A few well-placed boards may shelter from the wind as well as the sun. Tomato cages can serve as supports for sheets to shade young plants.

Help your tender plants survive and thrive this summer with a few creative shade structures.