It is always challenging at this time of year to act as head cheerleader for the garden. I am not immune to triple-digit heat indexes any more than the next guy, so how do I have the effrontery to wave my pom-poms and say “get out there”?

Well, first of all, I’m not waving anything right now except my hand in front of my face to ward off gnats. Secondly, my battle-cry has caveats: don’t get out there in the middle of the day; don’t forget to bring a large bottle of water with you; and don’t even think about working with someone else. If togetherness cannot be avoided, it would be wise to avoid all conversation (religious, political, horticultural or otherwise) until you have divested yourself of all sharp gardening tools and are sitting in front of an A/C unit with a glass of lemonade in your hand.

Heat makes us cranky. It is no coincidence that the Declaration of Independence was signed at the beginning of July in a sweltering Philadelphia. It’s one thing to suffer the yoke of oppression when you’ve got a warming October stew in your belly, but quite another to grin and bear it when there is no such thing as Frigidaire and the ice man will not cometh for another two weeks. If the Founders had added “It’s July.” to their list of injuries and usurpations, it wouldn’t have seemed amiss in the slightest.

Sweaty, starving peasants launched the French Revolution in July. Franco toppled the Spanish Republic in July. Currently, Mohamed Morsi is sitting in an undisclosed location playing card games with his Republican Guards and wondering what happened to his lovely Arab Spring. Well, in short, an Arab summer. Do you know how hot Cairo gets in July?

heatAll this brings me back to the fact that if we feel ourselves a little put out by the heat, we are not alone. However, it is our duty as gardeners to manage our time out there effectively. Our poor little plants do not have the luxury of escaping back into the house at noon for a siesta and a glass of water – nor can they stage a coup in the chard bed and demand a new regime.

This is a crucial time for many plants. Annuals in pots will fry up, never-to-return, if their pots are allowed to go dry for one tiny second. Those shrubs/trees/perennials that you paid a fortune for during the halcyon days of April are also on the endangered list. That first year in the ground should be a wet one, if not by the hand of nature, then by your own. Fruiting vegetables must be picked if we wish the plants to fruit into the fall, and many potted plants will be running out of food right about now.

So, bearing in mind that the list is long and our motivation is almost non-existent, what can we do to make sure that all our work/money/time in the spring is not wasted in the summer?

Plants as Priority, that’s how.

Forget the fence that needs mending. Forget the pot ghetto that needs planting. Forget the pruning, the edging, the deer fencing, the re-arranging, the planning and the partying. Forget the new pond project…the patio project…the pathway and the pergola projects. If you find yourself with almost nothing in the energy department, then your one priority should be to keep your plants alive. That means water, food, the eradication of competitive weeds and regular harvesting – all of which should be attempted in the early morning or later evening.

Then, if against all the lessons of history you must discuss politics and religion in the sweltering heat of July, do so in the comfort of your air-conditioned armchair or, better yet, save the revolutionary chit-chat for October and a cooler head. Literally.

It’s much more civilized that way, and no one’s likely to get hurt.