A green space for urban gardeners

Plants – and temperatures – go from one extreme to another

DSC00437Downtown Chicago’s weather went from zero to 60 seemingly overnight. Or, more accurately, from 60 to 90 — degrees that is. A great time to get my plants back outside, right?

Not necessarily… While sun and heat would appear to be the perfect prescription for perking up plants that had been sentenced to home confinement for days on end, it proved too much of a good thing for some. Here’s a recap:

On the upside, despite their time indoors (after work to the facade of my building forced me to clear my balcony garden), my flowering plants boxes still looked pretty good. [The lobelia pictured is a prime example.]

But, my herb/edibles planters were a different story. The marigold foliage had gone from bright green to mostly brown. Surprisingly, the herb seeds that I’d direct sown outside  —  just before I had to shift everything to my living room — managed to sprout inside without the benefit of direct sun, but they were ultra-delicate threads with a hint of leaf at the top.

I moved the pots and planters back outside on Sunday afternoon, making sure I watered everything thoroughly, in anticipation of the 90 degree days in the week’s forecast. But, before long I realized the direct sun and high temperatures I’d been hoping for came on a little too fast for some of the plants. Extreme changes — even to conditions under which plants will ultimately thrive — can have profound effects.

I should have treated those fine new herb threads like other plants started inside and given them a proper hardening. Big oops! Some were fried and dried by the end of the day on Monday. And there was even some withering of leaves on a couple my heirloom tomato plants.

So, thus begins the process of reconstruction. Today I planted new herb seeds to replace some of the sprouts that got fried and covered them in seed-starting soil to speed things along. I decided three of the four marigolds were lost causes and removed them from the planters. I’ll assess, replant and replace as needed in the coming days. I also salted the water for those damaged tomatoes with plant food.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for my small-space city garden, 10 stories up, but, to quote Broadway’s Annie : “The sun’ll come out tomorrow…”

Let’s hope the plants are ready for it.


  Stephanie wrote @

One good thing about container gardening is that we can move pots around 😉 I moved a few pots today too! oh, regarding the sweet potato plant, I must well follow what you are doing. Just plant for ornamental purpose and not for the potato. No space!

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

I agree, I don’t think we have the space to make growing potatoes worthwhile. I still want to try to keep enough space for chairs on my balcony so I can relax and enjoy the garden eventually. Cheers!

  Megan wrote @

Oh no, how sad! I hope the rest of the plants survive the transition. Good luck with the recovery.

  Erin wrote @

That’s such a bummer! I feel your pain – the heat in Iowa stunted my pea crop, withered my garlic, and has kept me scrambling to keep everything watered! I can’t imagine how it must be magnified with the urban heat island effect you have to deal with.

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

Thanks Megan and Erin,
There’s actually dust from the building work blowing on my jalapeno right now! I’m going to try to go out to water soon. Trying to approach it with a sense of Zen.

  Jo wrote @

What a shame. I hope you manage to replace the plants you have lost.

  catmint wrote @

Hi Avis, this is so interesting, such different challenges that we have here with a milder climate. I’m aware that you really have to intervene and be very proactive to get your plants to flourish. Good luck and thank you for a stimulating post. cheers, catmint

  Rose wrote @

This is typical Illinois weather–from one extreme to the other. Although my tomatoes and peppers love this heat, some of the flowers are wilting mid-day. So sorry about some of your seedlings, but your lobelia is looking good! Thanks for visiting me!

  Kathleen wrote @

Oh no. That’s a bummer Avis. I know what you mean about the temp change ~ we went from 60 to 90 too. I think even my pots that have been outdoors are in shock so I can only imagine what yours felt after being inside. Now that it’s warm, it probably won’t take long for new seeds to germinate and grow. Hopefully you’ll still have your pretty balcony garden.

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

I hope you’re right about the new seeds sprouting soon. I’m just doing a little bit everyday and trusting things will work out in the end. Good luck with your pots, too.

  Sandy wrote @

Hi Avis, I have similar experience too. I put my baby cacti out on my balcony, thinking that it would do no harm for the balcony was a North-facing one. Apparently, it was too early for these fragile baby cacti to enjoy a good sunbath. Well, at least now, I have learned my lesson 🙂

  Miss Daisy wrote @

Sounds like you’ve been having crazy weather like we have! We’ve had so much rain, that I’ve had some plants that I planted this spring turn to root rot. So sad! I feel like we’re in the rain forest. Then this week it’s been in the 50’s one day and the 90’s the next. Crazy. Sorry to hear you’ve been experiencing some weird weather as well.

  City Diggity wrote @

Miss Daisy,
And after all the heat last week, we’re looking at a cool-off this week! I do see a little improvement in some plants, but I think one of my heirloom tomato plants is a goner! Ah well, when one thing dies it just makes room for something else, right… You’ll find great replacements for the plants you lost. Cheers!

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