Down to Earth - by Madison Co. Master Gardeners

Master Gardener

Managing Plant Stresses

It's no secret that July and August can be the most stressful part of our growing season.  Rising or sharply fluctuating temperatures, moisture extremes, and insect pressure can make a plant, and a gardener, miserable.  Good cultural practices can help to manage the stress.

  • Watering practices are crucial to plant survival.  Generally, plants need 1" of rainfall per week.  Anything less than that and you will need to supplement what nature provides.  Morning watering is best, taking care to water the soil, not the foliage.  Water plants thoroughly, but less frequently to stimulate deep, drought tolerant roots.
  • Maintaining 2 to 3 inches of mulch around plants will not only conserve water, but also control weeds and keep rain from splashing soil on the plant foliage.  Mulching keeps plant roots cool and moist.
  • Fertilizing early in the season encourages healthy plant growth.  But stop fertilizing during extremely hot, dry weather.  Adding fertilizer to an already stressed plant will only increase its stress.
  • Scouting for pests and disease regularly will alert you to problems early.  There are several free publications available on the ISU website  Use the search feature to find information specific to your plant.  Remember a good offense, "healthy plant", is your best defense.
  • Deciding whether to water your lawn or let it go dormant during dry spells is a personal decision.  Either way, keep grass 3 to 3 1/2 inches tall.  Taller grass is more heat tolerant.
  • Checking new plantings frequently for signs of stress will help to protect your landscape investment.  Water deeply whenever the top few inches of soil starts to dry.
  • Giving special attention to your container gardens will stretch their appeal into the fall.  Check the first few inches of soil for moisture daily.  Apply enough water so that the excess runs out the bottom of the pot.  During especially hot, sunny spells, you may need to water twice a day.
  • Pulling persistent weeds from your vegetable garden will reduce watering and increase production.  As you harvest produce and spots are left bare, discourage weeds by planting a fall cover crop of buckwheat.  Or, fill empty spaces with a fall crop of vegetables.  Refer to ISU publication PM 534 Planting and Harvesting Times for Garden Vegetables available at the ISU Extension website or from your local Extension office.


Iowa's Garden:  The Iowa Arboretum

Did you know we had a garden that belongs to all Iowans?  It was founded in 1968 by the Iowa State Horticultural Society as a gift to Iowans in honor of the Society's hundredth anniversary.  Nestled into the rural landscape around Madrid, the original 40 acres houses an astonishing array of plants that can be grown in Iowa.  The "astonishing array" means some 4,000 plants that have gone through an inventory process and are labeled to help visitors educate themselves.  Displayed in 20 plus themed gardens, these plants are easily accessible along an extensive trail system which invites visitors to stroll and look, and stroll and look some more.  The themed gardens highlight such things as:

  • Iowa hybridizer hosta cultivars
  • Herbs
  • Stout Medal-winning daylily cultivars
  • Conifers
  • Governor's Oak collection
  • Butterfly Garden started and maintained by Story County Master Gardeners

There's more.  The Arboretum manages a 300 acre woodland and prairie owned by the 4H Foundation and located right across the street from the 40 acre headquarters.  This land has an extensive trail system inviting exploration.  The prairie restorations there have been ongoing for about 20 years, and the Arboretum is currently working on a master plan process that may include active woodland management.  A nearby farm site with a creek and woodlands, plus a donated 40 acre site provide potential for additional enrichment of the Arboretums' mission:  "Sharing Our Passion for Trees, Plants, and Nature with All of Iowa."
Open year-round and with free admission, the Arboretum offers many events to educate and inspire Iowan's of all ages.  Membership at the Arboretum provides additional options, but the biggest benefit is the satisfaction of supporting the mission.  Volunteers are always welcome, either as individuals or in groups.  The only requirement is that volunteers be willing to "roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty," according to director Mark Schnieder.  The Arboretum website provides extensive information, including a calendar of events that might spur a visit to this Iowa gem.  Go to and then head for Madrid!




Contact Madison County Master Gardeners at

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