Coping with heat in your garden

Published 2:06 pm Monday, July 18, 2011

By NELSON WYNN / Guest Columnist

Heat may be good for some of your garden plants, but extreme heat is not good for you. In fact, it can be very dangerous.

I was surprised to learn from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website that there were more than 8,000 deaths in the United States from extreme heat between 1979 and 1999. That is more than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined.

Heat-induced illness and death occur when the body is not able to cool itself properly.

A body normally cools itself through sweating. However, if the temperature is too high, this may not be enough because sweat doesn’t evaporate as quickly if the air is humid.

This makes it feel like the air temperature is even warmer than it is — something often called the “heat index.” For instance, if the air temperature is 90 degrees and the relative humidity is 80 percent, it feels like it is 112 degrees.

Although any individual can experience heat stress, the old and very young are most susceptible, as their bodies don’t adjust to heat as easily. Other risk factors include being overweight, abusing prescription drugs or having heart disease, poor circulation, fever, mental illness or sunburn.

Drinks with alcohol, caffeine or large amounts of sugar can actually cause the body to lose fluid. Very cold drinks, which seem appropriate to cool down, can actually cause stomach cramps.

Heat-induced illness and death can be prevented, especially when gardening. To avoid heat stress while outdoors or gardening, the CDC provides these tips:

-Drink plenty of fluids, keeping in mind the above cautions. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink.

-Replace salts and minerals, which are removed by sweating. Many sports drinks accomplish this.

-Avoid hot foods and heavy meals.

-Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen.

-Schedule your activities for cooler times of the day.

-Pace yourself.

-Seek a cooler location if you find yourself getting too hot or breathing heavily.

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor, University of Vermont, provided information for this article.

Nelson Wynn is an extension agent with the Shelby County Extension office. He can be reached by email at