Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Outsmarting the Sun: Dealing With Reflected Heat

Every year as I plan my container garden, I agonize over what to put directly in front of my kitchen window. It isn't a matter of feeling overwhelmed with the choices but of survival. My house faces east and my back patio bakes in full direct afternoon sun.


Blue Daze is a tough trailing plant that does well in full sun and dry conditions. 

The intensity of the sun is magnified by a concrete 'stone' patio, vinyl siding, and reflected heat from my windows. All windows reflect heat but because mine have been treated with a film to reduce the amount of heat entering the house, the amount of light, which plants receive as heat, is greater. On a 90 degree day like today, the plants in front of the window receive light at temps of 100 degrees or more. It's like being fried by a laser beam. Despite daily watering, the signs of heat stress are unmistakable: reduced growth, burned leaves, wilting.


Pulling dry leaves off the salvia is a daily chore, despite the ridiculous amounts of water it receives.



They spend the entire afternoon wilting from the intense reflected heat.

I thought I had solved this problem last fall when I transplanted a squished 'Maraschino' salvia out of the garden and into a big pot on the patio. I thought the salvia would be tough enough to handle the Window of  Death and I could watch hummingbirds feed on its nectar. As long as the temperature didn't rise much above 83, the salvia was happy. But it's June in Virginia and the temps this weekend are supposed to be over 100. Tired of being broiled every afternoon, the plants struck back and left their warning by the coffee pot.
Gunning the engine to drown out the frenzied thumping of my heart, I headed to the closest coffee shop and began to brainstorm a solution.

1. Fantasy: Move the salvia to a more sheltered spot, buy another giant pot, a jumbo bag of potting soil, and a huge clump of ornamental grass. Reality: In addition to being expensive, positioning a stand of razor sharp grass so close to the door seemed hazardous, considering the sudden lock picking abilities of the salvia.

2. Fantasy: Buy a silk plant that looks like a giant clump of ornamental grass. Reality: In addition to looking hideous, it would probably spontaneously combust. Burning the house down is NOT a solution.

Gulping my espresso, I considered the extreme. It seemed crazy, but that is often my specialty. If I didn't act soon, my container garden, safety, and sanity would be at risk. I looked around nervously, tightened my belt, and crushed my paper cup into an angry ball. "I'm at a coffee shop in my bathrobe, for cryin' out loud!", I growled. Sanity was no longer an issue.

***

Armed with a hammer, an awl, and cup hooks, I pounded, screwed, and hung my weirdness out for all to see. Standing on the patio, surveying my work, I looked around and yelled, "I love my red salvia, globe thistle, and dahlias more than I love convention, tradition, or anything resembling normalcy."  Birds chirped, bees buzzed, and fortunately, my neighbors weren't home.


Using an old tension rod, cup hooks, and an unused curtain made of thick, dark green fabric


I hung the curtain on the outside of my kitchen window to help stop the reflected heat that was frying my plants. It can easily be removed. 



Within 30 minutes, the plants had stopped wilting and the patio felt cooler. I can still see the hummers from the other windows. 

43 comments:

  1. What a fantastic idea! I'm so glad you outsmarted the salvia...we would have missed you terribly. Maybe I should just hang curtains around the periphery of my back yard? Everything is baking out there this week :/

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    1. It was the only solution I could come up with. I just couldn't watch the salvia die, especially since it was plotting revenge, anyway.

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  2. Wow, what a great but weird solution. Do you know the name of that bug in the first image. And I don't mean Fred. Ha! I saw one that looked like it in the garden, but when I ran in for my camera it was gone. I never saw one like it before.

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    1. I have no idea what that bug's name is! Flying Bug works for me!

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  3. I understand your problem, reflected heat is a killer. So at the coffeeshop in your bathrobe??? You are a riot.
    Not sure how I feel about the curtains on the outside....certainly is a novel solution. Have to hang and rehang them daily?

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    1. Sticking the rod on the cup hooks just takes a minute. Since we're headed for a heat wave, I'm going to leave it up for now, although I doubt it will be permanent. What's funny is how totally blase my husband was about the whole thing. I guess he's learned to expect the unexpected. :o)

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  4. Inventive solution - hope it helps in the upcoming heat!

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    1. Thanks! The current forecast for Friday is 103. Ugh!

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  5. A smart solution! A couple of weeks ago when we had triple digit temps, I used an umbrella to shade a hosta. And we certainly
    have no need of umbrellas here for rain, especially in the summer!

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    1. I actually went to a nursery and looked for oleander shrubs to use as an annual but they're grown here as pampered greenhouse specimens and have never had direct sun. Just the idea of that cracks me up since they would probably survive the apocalypse. Anything that can thrive in the middle of I-5 shouldn't live in a greenhouse!

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  6. Hey, whatever works! Although I think a small white shade sail would look fabulous with your house and shade the window pretty well too. I would never dare put potted plants on the west side of my house, so I think you're very brave and also obviously much less lazy than I am. Now that I know Salvias can pick locks and have agressive personalities, I'm glad all mine are quite far away from any doors or windows.

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    1. We looked into getting an awning for the entire back bay window but because part of it squeezes up against the house (not shown in the picture), there wasn't enough room. I found no threatening drinkware by the coffee pot this morning, so detente has been reached.

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  7. Too funny. I did much the same on the rear left hand side of our car, sans air conditioning, on a blistering hot trip through the Rocky Mountains; my child was getting fried. A police officer slowed down as he passed but kept on going.

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    1. Did you stick a shirt in a window and then roll it up to block the sun? I've done that, too! :o) Road trips with no AC? Ugh!

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  8. Hi, well done! You could use an umbrella but this curtain will do its work too.

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    1. An umbrella was one of my first ideas but I wasn't sure how I'd keep it from falling over or blowing away if it got windy.

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  9. Great solution; I think people who think outside the box. One thing that would probably work is Stipa tenuissima, a grass that is soft to the touch and loves the sun and heat. Christina

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    1. It rarely occurs to me to think inside the box. :o) I am definitely going to look into that grass. I think grasses are the only plants that can survive the Window of Death without help from a curtain.

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  10. I love your humor and creativity! Sometimes as gardeners we just have to do what we have to do to help our plants. I am not looking forward to this weekend...107 on Saturday here. Crazy!

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    1. 107?? Dang! Stay cool! Sounds like ice-cream-for-dinner kind of weather. :o)_

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  11. Whoa! Curtains. Outside. What a great idea. Having lived in the Virginia suburbs years ago, I know how brutal summer can be. But don't feel alone. Even here in Connecticut, plants fry.

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    1. I've decided I'm the next big thing. :o) Actually, if the fabric were water proof, I'd be able to leave them up even when it rains. But they're very easy to take down.

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  12. Ah, that's ingenuity! And it looks nice, too!

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    1. Thanks!! I decided it was no weirder than having to look at a phone to find out the time.

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  13. Hmm, curtains on the outside of a window, and they say we British are eccentric ?

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    1. I like eccentric people. Normalcy is so overrated. :o)

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  14. I couldn't agree more - normalcy is so overrated :-) Great post, loved it!
    I love reading your posts, even if I don’t always leave a message. I would therefore like to nominate you for the ‘One Lovely Blog Award’, your blog is great and truly deserve it. Congratulation! You can find the rules here: http://graphicality-uk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/one-lovely-blog-award.html
    Take care :-)

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    1. I'm so excited!! Thank you!! Considering how fabulous your blog is, this is quite an honor!!

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  15. Wonderful idea! I never even realized about reflected heat off windows until you pointed it out. and really if you weren't examining the house closely you really wouldn't notice anything was out of the norm.

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    1. Not only is the patio cooler, but so is the kitchen. I asked a horticulturalist how to resolve the problem and he told me to use fake plants, because there was no solution. Get outta the box, Mr. Horticulturalist!

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  16. Oh this is a clever solution; I have not seen an outdoor curtain before. The first photo shows a blue flower that is lovely and new to me. Now I will look for your follow button. My current blog post shows me riding a donkey in Istanbul; many of my posts are about gardening though.

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    1. I don't anyone has ever seen an outdoor curtain before but it's highly effective. :o) My heat index right now is 115 and none of the patio plants by the window are wilting. Hooray! I didn't ride a donkey when I was in Istanbul but I did ride one in Santorini.

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  17. You are brilliant. : ) - http://mary-goingnative.blogspot.com/

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    1. Thanks!!! I have happy plants and that's all that matters. :o)

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  18. Brilliant solution to a, uh, brilliancy problem! At my last house I did have an outdoor curtain. I went to a fabric store and bought some actual awning material. It was colorful, tough, waterproof. I'm sorry I left it with the house. Luckily I don't have a 'window of death' at this place. The sheers over the deck, however, have been a blessing this season.

    You keep on thinking out of the box. And we'll keep on reading about it. Good on you, girl. :-D

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    1. You had an outdoor curtain, too? I knew I liked you!! Depending on how well this curtain holds up, I was thinking about getting some Sunbrella fabric and making one that's water resistant. The positive effect on the plants has been incredible! They are so much happier. :o)

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  19. Good for you for coming up with a solution, and one that works well.

    I was wondering how geraniums did in that heat? Being from the coast we think 27 C is super hot.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

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    1. I'm not sure how they'd do. I might need to coat them in flame retardant before setting them out there, it gets so hot. :o)

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  20. No! You didn't! You did not hang a thick curtain on the outside of your windows . . . but the evidence is here on your blog. I have to admire your resourcefulness, and the plants clearly are happier. You gotta do what you gotta do, and those lock picking salvias would have worried me too. Your method of keeping them happy until cooler weather arrives is ingenious.

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    1. I laughed out loud at your comment! Martha Stewart would hate me. :o)

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  21. Thanks for the Garden Love. :) And I love your brilliant solution. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? I hope you made the curtain out of a shower curtain. That way, when it rains, you won't have to worry about the rain ruining the material.

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    1. You're welcome. Actually, it's made out of regular fabric. I just grabbed one out of the closet as a trial run. When it rained last night, we brought it in. But a shower curtain is a great idea!

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  22. Oh my gosh Tammy, I am cracking up over this post, but as they say, "Necessity is the mother of invention." You go girl!!
    Sorry I have never posted before, but I have been a lurker, enjoying your blog from in the background.

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