Chill your garden

Landscapes are still simmering under the Texas sun, but you can dial down your yard’s temperature with these tips and tricks.

Summer, you have officially overstayed your welcome! With scorching 100-plus-degree days lingering past the usual dog days of summer, I find myself appreciating even the slightest drop in temperature. Somehow, even 97 degrees in the shade feels better now.

The searing temperatures have me looking for ways to keep my landscape cooler today and in the future. Here are a few ways to dial down the temperature in your yard:

Leave your grass longer. This helps your grass produce more energy and develop deeper, stronger root systems. Longer blades provide more shade and deep root systems are more drought tolerant.

Mulch your landscape. Mulch increases soil’s ability to absorb and hold water. It also reduces evaporation and keeps soils cooler. Add 2 inches of hardwood mulch to your landscape in early September and early May. It can be about 80 degrees under a layer of mulch when temperatures are over 100 degrees, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

A densely planted landscape bed (aka green mulch) can also help shade and cool the soil. Of course, I’m waiting until after this exceptional drought ends to do any planting. I prefer organic mulches or green mulch as rocks retain heat.

Shade your yard with trees. Take refuge from the Texas heat under the shade of our leafy friends and you’ll appreciate just one of their many benefits. Trees with a wide, dense canopy cool a larger area, but even smaller trees can be used to fill in particularly difficult spots. Make sure to choose the appropriate tree for your yard and plant it based on its mature size and your location specifics, including soil, utilities, sidewalks, patios and more.

In San Antonio, trees and shrubs are typically planted Nov. 1 to March 31. Keep an eye on the weather — if this exceptional drought continues next year, you may need to provide supplemental water for any new trees to protect your investment.

A trellis, lattice or pergola with vining plants can provide shade and privacy much quicker than slow-growing trees and shrubs.

Remember to consider airflow in your landscape design and features like fences, decks and permanent shade structures.

Improvise shade. Some plants, especially new plantings, may appreciate a little shade from the mid-day sun. I haven’t tried temporary shade yet, but others have recommended light-colored shade cloth or even old bedsheets hung two to three feet above plants to allow air circulation and morning and evening sun while blocking the blazing afternoon sun. Or try popping up an outdoor umbrella!

While the calendar tells us summer’s end is approaching, San Antonio often sees 90-degree days into late October and even November so it’s worth mulching and mowing at a higher height until future rains make our shady tree dreams possible!

Picture of Sasha Kodet
Sasha Kodet
Sasha Kodet is a conservation planner whose large garden attracts a myriad of wildlife and curious neighbors with minimal water. At SAWS, Kodet develops outdoor programs to help people create their own beautiful, water-saving landscapes. She draws on her two decades of experience as a naturalist, botanical garden educator and event planner. Kodet enjoys (really) long walks in the woods and has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail.
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