Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


July 16, 2012

Plateau Gardening: People and plants suffer when temperatures reach record highs

CROSSVILLE — Statistics from the National Climatic Data Center for the first six months of 2012 as reported by USA Today July 9, tell us January through June of this year was the warmest ever for the contiguous United States (CONUS). That is a 118-year record (comparative climatic data for CONUS has been  tracked since 1895). Tennessee joined 27 other states and more than 100 cities with the warmest six-month start of any year on record. The sweltering temperatures during summer heat waves pose a serious health threat to gardeners and to  plants they cultivate.

The National Weather Service online report “Heat: A Major Killer” ( spells out the severe risks of extreme heat; lists the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) excessive heat watches, warnings and advisories; explains  the physical effects of too much heat; and also gives heat wave safety tips for both children and adults. That is where I learned “heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States” claiming “more lives than floods, lightening, tornadoes and hurricanes combined.”

Heat related illnesses develop when body temperature goes up due to rapid warming and the body cannot cool itself naturally or when too much fluid or salt is lost because of dehydration and/or sweating. Some water loss through perspiration is necessary for cooling but chemical imbalances can result with salt depletion. Heat problems are more severe in children because their bodies warm at a faster rate. In the adult population, when underlying physical conditions are equal, negative effects of high heat tend to increase with age.

Here are some safe practices for people in excessive heat situations: Even if windows are down, do not leave children, pets and/or elderly adults unattended in a vehicle during hot weather. Postpone or do not plan strenuous activities during the heat of the day. Stay where it is cooler whether outdoors in shade or in water or indoors with good airflow and/or air conditioning. If you don’t have AC or fans at home go to a library, to the movies or to a shopping mall that is air conditioned.

Don’t get too much sun. Wear protective sun lotion. Sunburn is skin damage caused by ultraviolet radiation in sunlight. In addition to redness and pain or blistering and fever in bad cases, sunburned skin can’t dissipate heat efficiently. Dress in lightweight, light-colored summer clothing and wear a hat or cap when outside

Though it isn’t a preventative for heat-related problems, gardeners and others doing outdoor work should also remember to apply insect repellent to avoid bites from mosquitoes, ticks and other bugs that hide in vegetation. I recommend scrubbing down well in a shower or bath right after coming indoors from activities like yard work, golfing or hiking. It cools you down and minimizes or eliminates problems from biting creatures like ticks and chiggers.

Avoid foods with lots of protein (meats) which can increase both metabolic heat and water loss. Take salt tablets only if advised to do so by a physician. Don’t drink alcoholic beverages and take caffeinated beverages in moderation. Do have plenty of water, non-alcoholic and decaffeinated drinks. Drink fluids even though you aren’t thirsty to prevent dehydration.

Individual plants are suited to and grow best within a certain range of high and low temperatures. In 1997, the American Horticulture Society produced the AHS Heat Zone Map and rated how well various plants stand up to high temperatures. That was the flipside for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone Map and ratings which show plant species survival at low temperatures.

• • •

 Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region.  UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (931-484-6743) has answers horticulture questions, free publications and details on how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard & garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, 



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