16 ways to prepare and protect your entire garden in a heatwave

Find out how to prepare and protect garden plants and more in your yard when there's a heatwave

A summerhouse in a sunny garden in summer
(Image credit: Sandra Clegg / Getty)

Preparing for a heatwave is essential to keep your garden and backyard space looking good. Even a couple of days of intense summer heat can cause plants to suffer and make your backyard an uncomfortable space to be in. 

As much as many of us enjoy the heat, it is always best to overprepare for a heatwave than your plants wilting, visiting wildlife suffering and yourself overheating in the sun. If you haven't got the best garden hose yet, now is the time to invest in one. Watering your plants more regularly is a must if you want them to stay healthy during hot weather.

Tweak your garden ideas to mitigate the effects of hot weather and your outdoor space will remain a comfortable oasis for everyone that uses it. Here are the top tips to help you enjoy the summer without too much discomfort. 

1. Water plants in the morning

plants in a garden

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp Photography)

Keep your best garden plants hydrated at all costs and by watering your plants in the morning plant roots will have more of a chance to take up water, ahead of extreme heat. Contrary to what some may think, lunchtime heat shouldn't actually scorch leaves.

You should also avoid watering late in the evening, as this can make your plants more vulnerable to slugs and root rot. Consider it both a non-toxic garden pest control solution and protective measure for plants in a heatwave. 

2. Don't oversaturate 

A sprinkler watering a lawn

(Image credit: Chris Clor / Getty)

It may seem logical to flood your plants with as much water as possible, but this will actually do more harm than good during extreme weather. By over-watering, you are adding to the stress the plant is already under in needing to acclimatize to higher temperatures. Plants that have access to good soil are able to adjust to hot weather, provided the soil at root level doesn't dry out completely. 

So, every morning during the heatwave, perform this test: stick your index finger into the soil around the root; if the soil is still wet below the surface, there's no need to water. If it's just damp, it's time to water again. 

If you don't think you'll have much time to water plants regularly during a heatwave, consider drought-tolerant plants is your best bet.

And, if you have the budget, consider installing a water irrigation system (opens in new tab), which is a water-efficient way to ensure your plants get watered, especially if you need to keep plants alive while away on vacation (opens in new tab).

3. Protect plants from direct sun

container garden

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp Photography)

Lunchtime is by far the most dangerous time of day for many plants during very hot weather. There are several things you can do to prepare your garden for a heatwave and alleviate the pressure on your plants:

  • Mulch: mulching is one of the most effective ways to prevent moisture loss from around the root area. Make sure the mulch layer is at least a couple of inches deep;
  • Use a shade cloth: if you're worried about young plants or soft fruit, putting up a shade cloth might be a temporary solution. You will need a structure to mount it onto, such as a frame or pergola; 
  • Row covers: if you're planning a kitchen garden, these are very useful for protecting tender growth and the soil. You'll need hoop supports and shade netting to build your row covers.

4. Water plants gradually

Watering can - use it to protect plants during a heatwave

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It doesn't much matter whether you water your plants from a hose or a watering can, but you should always try and water plants gradually rather than blasting them with water on the most powerful setting. Plants aren't meant to absorb water at very quick rates, and watering the foliage is often a waste. Always water slowly, at the roots. 

5. Add Vermiculite to container plants

Small garden with container planting

(Image credit: Maayke de Ridder)

Those with container gardens will know how difficult it can be to keep the soil moist, particularly in terracotta pots. One way to prepare your garden for a heatwave is to add vermiculite to your soil mix. It is a great way to increase water retention in the soil, preventing the water from evaporating too quickly. Vermiculite (which can also be bought on Amazon) (opens in new tab) also improves the absorption of nutrients and fertilizers, making your container plants healthier and therefore more resilient during a heatwave.

6. Favor drought-resistant plants

pink, lilac and mauve flowers in a garden

One way to prepare a garden for a heatwave is to choose the right plants in the first place. And if you live somewhere with an arid climate, drought-resistant varieties or choosing the xeriscaping garden method can be a wise move. 

Some plants need less watering than others; opting for full sun plants that love the heat, whether in borders or in containers, will help you save water and ensure they thrive, even in extremely hot weather. 

High heat tolerant plants include lavender, rosemary, sage, vervain and artemisia. 

7. Order a water butt now

wildlife garden butterfly on flower

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

While the weather is still up and down, get a water butt or rain barrel (opens in new tab) installed in your garden. That way, hosepipe ban or not, you'll have water on tap in the garden whenever you need it. Rain barrels are also an important feature of wildlife gardens.. 

8. Plant anything new out in the evening

Spade in an organic vegetable patch

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Planting at the right time of day in hot weather can ensure your plants' survival. If you're planting out in a heatwave, wait until the evening, and water well. Ideally, plant on a cloudy day and water well if the weather's still warm. Then mulch with a 50/50 organic mix and organic compost. 

9. Add some shade

festoon lighting over a vine covered decking dining areas

(Image credit: Lights4Fun)

Pergolas can work really well to reduce heat in your garden and to protect plants from direct sun. More substantial than garden arches, but giving you more freedom with positioning than a patio roof, pergolas can help you protect your plants (and yourself, in fact) from getting scorched. While a pergola will typically have a latticed roof that does let some sun in, you can get designs specifically for creating more shade, with retractable and replaceable canopies. 

Alternatively, train a bougainvillea up your pergola roof: these lovely Mediterranean climbing shrubs are drought-tolerant and love the sun, and can work as a living roof to protect your other plants. 

garden sail

(Image credit: Argos)

Need a speedier shade solution than a pergola? A sail shade (opens in new tab) is perfect. You can attach it to fences, the house, even trees – or erect posts to hold it in place. Need shade in more than one spot? Get two... Or just group plants that are suffering under the one you have.

10. Supply water for wildlife

It's not just plants that'll be suffering during a heatwave, but also animals and insects that visit your garden. Heatwaves put major pressure on all wildlife, but you can help, while making your garden look even more beautiful. Our top tips for helping wildlife during a heatwave are:

  • Install a bird bath (opens in new tab): these come in a variety of beautiful shapes and designs; make sure the water is always fresh. 
  • If you want to help bees as well, get a shallow bird bath and place some pebbles inside it – these will act as rafts and prevent the bees from drowning. Find out more about creating a bee-friendly garden in our guide.
  • Leave bowls of fresh water on the ground for hedgehogs; you can also leave food out for them, such as diced carrot. 
  • Don't get rid of ivy and other climbers: these provide invaluable shelter for birds, insects, and hedgehogs. 

Beachcomber bird bath by Waitrose

Beachcomber bird bath (opens in new tab), Waitrose Garden

(Image credit: Waitrose Garden)

11. Employ BBQ safety

During a heatwave, you're likely to get out your best barbecue and although a lunchtime menu is enticing, consider waiting until the hot midday sun has passed to avoid overheating. Ensure also that if you choose to barbecue under a canopy that it is fire retardant and simply be even more aware of fire safety.

12. Leave the grass long

It's tempting to get your lawnmower out often during the summer - but resist the temptation to over mow during a heatwave. Sophie Birkert, founder of Screen With Envy (opens in new tab), advises: ' Taller grass casts a shadow, so if your grass has a bit of length it can protect its surrounding blades at all different times of day. Anything over 2 centimetres should provide some additional protection.'

13. Protect garden furniture

Some of the best patio furniture options are fade- and UV-resistant, but that's not always the case with all patio furniture. Birkert recommends checking 'the purchasing information to be sure. Regardless of what you find, use either a sun-protecting cover (opens in new tab) or move your furniture inside/into a shaded spot.'

14. Watch out for water features

It is easy to forget that garden water features can also feel the strain of intense heat.

'Much like plants, covering the water features in your garden is a really simple way to ensure the water doesn’t evaporate or, in some cases, hurt any wildlife.

'Use simple tarpaulin (opens in new tab) if you don’t have a designated cover in the short term, but consider buying something more useful in future.' 

15. Look after your pool during a heatwave

Increased pool maintenance during a heatwave is a must. High temperatures cause chlorine to evaporate faster, which can lead to a chemical imbalance and even make your pool green with algae. You should increase the pH testing of your pool during a heatwave and put more chlorine in if you need.

16. Cool down outbuildings and garden rooms

If your garden room or summerhouse has windows, now's the time to open them wide! If it doesn't or they're not big enough to make a difference - especially if you use yours as an outdoor office space - you will need to think about additional cooling measures. A portable fan (which can be bought on Amazon) (opens in new tab) is an obvious first step. You can also look into the best portable air conditioner if you're planning on spending a lot of time in your outbuilding.  

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design. 

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