The “dog days” — summer's hottest, muggiest days — usually fall between early July and early September in the northern hemisphere.
The actual dates vary from region to region, depending on latitude and climate.
In ancient times, when artificial lights didn't obscure the night sky, the Romans tracked seasons with stars.
The brightest constellation, Canis Major (Large Dog), includes the “dog star," Sirius. In the summer, Sirius used to rise and set with the sun, leading the Romans to believe it added heat to the sun.
Although the period between July 3 and Aug. 11 is typically summer's warmest period, the heat is not due to the added radiation from a far-away star, regardless of its brightness.
The heat of summer is a direct result of the earth’s tilt.
Spending time outdoors this time of year is uncomfortable, potentially dangerous, due to the intense heat.
However, chinch bugs are very active in St. Augustine grass, and the summer flowers need water, so take care of those tasks early in the day and then retreat to the air conditioning to plan your fall planting.
Plant tomato plants in August for tomatoes in October. Varieties such as Sun Leaper, Florida 91, Sun Chaser, Solar Set and Heat Wave are good selections for setting fruit in high temperatures.
Many bedding plants flower quickly and can add color to the fall landscape. These include pentas, African marigolds, torenia, zinnias, melampodium and scaevola.
Dependable fall blooming perennials include lion’s ear (Leonotis leonurus), pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), firebush (Hamelia patens), cigar plant (Cuphea micropetala), yellowbells (Tecoma stans) and firespike (Odontonema strictum).
Webster’s second definition of “dog days” is a period of stagnation or inactivity.
But even when the heat forces you to slow down on labor-intensive work, there is plenty of gardening “activity” to do.
Sheila Dunning is an agent at the University of Florida's Extension office in Crestview.