Summertime gardening comes with its own set of challenges and obstacles. Winter may be bleak and unfriendly to gardens, but the summer heat and drought can be just as devastating. Gardeners in hot-weather zones (Hardiness Zones 7 and higher)–southern and western states like Florida, Texas, and California–can expect hot summers and/or drought capable of killing gardens. That’s why veteran gardeners use a few tips to ward off the heat and plant vegetables that can handle the sun’s overpowering rays.

Square-foot gardening, watering grids, shade, proper soil, and mulching can make the difference between a scorched garden and a vibrant one. Of all the advice given, however, none is more important than research. Successful gardeners research weather patterns from previous years, look at daily weather reports, and read about new summertime gardening practices. Without knowledge, little mistakes can lead to big failures.

Square Foot Gardening and the Watering Grid

This innovative method of gardening minimizes water consumption and maximizes water efficiency, especially when done with a watering grid. Gardeners plant in a square or rectangle that is spaced per square foot which saves space while keeping plants in close proximity with one another. The condensed space makes watering more efficient while the plants are separated enough they don’t compete with each other.

Working in tandem with square foot gardening is the grid spacing guide–a planting grid made dual-purpose water system̶–by Garden In Minutes. It uniformly organizes the garden and provides water where it needs to be at the base of the plant. Soaking plants from top to bottom may seem like a hydrating practice, but it’s detrimental to their health. The droplets hanging on leaves magnify the sun’s rays and hurt the plant more than help it. Additionally, the droplets will most likely evaporate before hitting the ground.

To combat the effects of drought and evaporation, ground level garden irrigation gently sprays water at the base of your garden plants. Not only does this use less water than a hose or sprinkler, it delivers water directly to the area filled with hungry roots.

Shading, Soil, and Mulch Fight the Heat

Similar to covering plants during frosts for insulation, shade can be put up during the hottest parts of the day to provide some cooling. From a little before noon to a few hours past, the sun is at its most lethal. Gardeners can erect light colored fabric or screening where it can deflect the sun’s rays during these time periods. It might not seem like much, but a few degrees cooler and a reprieve from prolonged direct sunlight is beneficial. Mulching is shading on the ground floor. Roughly eight inches of mulch throughout your garden will settle and keep moisture and coolness within the ground, while protecting against the scorching sun.

Along with shading, soil is an important countermeasure against hot summer days. Soil needs to retain water, yet still allow some drainage. Organic ingredients like peat moss and compost soak up water and provide nutrients but drain enough (especially in a raised bed) to make room for new moisture and nutrients.

Drought and Heat-Resistant Vegetables

  • Bell Pepper: Plant a few weeks after your final frost date (around the end of May) due to their fondness for high temperatures and dislike of frost. Bell pepper plants can be spaced one per square foot and thrive in high temperatures as long as they are watered appropriately.

  • Sweet Potato: They have vining foliage above ground with the tuber growing below and need soil that is at or above 70-80˚F. Their fondness for warm soil means they can be grown in mid-summer. They are heat-resistant, if not heat-loving, but aren’t as drought-resistant as the other vegetables named. Fortunately, they can be planted four plants to one square foot, guaranteeing a productive harvest. Tip: A healthy sweet potato plant likes to spread quickly. Consider giving this plant its own section or own garden bed.

  • Watermelon: Watermelon are some of the larger produce you can harvest in a raised garden. They can be planted well after the last frost, preferably when soil temperatures reach 70˚F and above. Because of their size, only one can be planted per two square feet. It’s their deep reaching roots and thick rind that makes them perfect for hot summers. Deep roots suck nutrients from deeper in the ground, where most other vegetables can’t reach. They mature at around 80 days and are ripe when knocking on the melon produces a hollow sound.

  • Asparagus: Asparagus are long-life plants, capable of producing for years after maturing. Like bell peppers, asparagus crowns (a one-year developed asparagus root system) can be planted one plant per square foot. Once their roots are healthy and strong–developed best in sunlight and a well-drained area–one asparagus plant can produce for more than 10 years.

As we move from spring to summer, there are changing conditions all gardeners should be aware of and get ready to adapt to enjoy a successful summer garden. Know your weather and do some research to see if a plant is suitable for your climate. If sun becomes too intense and you start to see adverse effects, act. You can mitigate intense sun, heat, and dryness by employing the tips above.