As most people in the northern hemisphere know, summer officially begins on June 21 and ends September 22. In the States, national temperatures vary throughout the season, but overall its hotter than the rest of the year.
While more northern states may not feel the brunt of the heat, southern regions suffer the highest temperatures. High temperatures coupled with long periods of direct sunlight can scorch gardens, leaving them withered and crispy.
Most vegetables suffer adverse effects from temperatures of 85°F and higher. However, gardening is more than possible during the hottest days of summer; it just takes extra attention, effort, and heat-resistant plants. It’s critical to understand the summer threats to your garden and how to avoid them.
Threats to a Summer Garden
First, avoid planting cool weather vegetables. Usually green and leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, lettuce, and cilantro thrive in cooler environments or during the fall and winter seasons. Utilize tools like the USDA Hardiness Zones map to identify what zone you are in and identify which vegetables prefer those temperatures.
Direct sunlight is essential for most plants, but your garden’s exposure to prolonged direct sunlight needs to be carefully monitored. Extended periods of direct exposure during the hottest months will dry out your garden at an accelerated rate.
If soil remains dry for extended periods of time, cracks can form in your produce. More specifically, these cracks in the vegetables’ skins are symptoms of repeated dehydration and rehydration of the soil, which can easily happen during the summer months.
Wilting is another sign, though less serious, that something isn’t right in your garden. Gardeners who can catch their plants wilting have time to water and save them. (Also, keep in mind that leafy plants can wilt a little during the day’s peak heat, in which case there is nothing to be done except wait.)
Wilting may be unavoidable, but don’t make the mistake of wetting your plants leaves in hopes to relieve them. Water on plant leaves and stems, compounded by the heat, invites fungus, mold, and bacteria to form.
Additionally, the water acts as a magnifying glass and intensifies the sun’s effects. Contrary to popular belief, watering your garden isn’t about wholly showering plants from top to bottom. To safely and more effectively hydrate your plants and relive them from the heat, water at ground level.
Take Preventative Measures in Your Summer Garden
Avoidance is only half the battle. Knowing how to prevent the summer’s heat from overwhelming your garden is the other. Maintaining a 90°F environment can be accomplished through a combination of shading, consistent watering, and weeding.
The golden rule is to keep your soil moist. Maintain moisture throughout the soil by watering up to twice a day if necessary. Water in the morning when the water can best infiltrate the soil and again in the late afternoon if the soil is feeling crusty. Water at the base of the plants for maximum absorption.
As mentioned, watering your plants leaves can be more damaging than beneficial. Instead, shade your garden with a maneuverable protective screen, which saves water lost to evaporation and can reduce the temperature surrounding your garden by 10 degrees.
A white sheet, netting, or something akin to a porch screen will afford your garden an appropriate amount of protection without overdoing it. Just make sure the shade is placed a few feet away from the plants to allow for airflow.
Finally, reduce the competition. Your garden is full of thirsty roots, competing for every bit of water they can find. Unwelcome weeds can sprout up and siphon water away from your preferred plants, slowly choking them to death.
To combat weeds, simply pull them out when you go to water your plants before too many can take root. A little work here and there will produce better results than waiting for your garden to be consumed. (Read More: Organic Weed Control Options)
Recommended Plants for the Heat of Summer
Avoidance and preventative methods will mean very little if you’re trying to grow the wrong plants within the wrong season. Some plants simply won’t grow in certain temperatures, so choosing what your garden will be comprised of is important.
Tomatoes, corn, and squash are great vegetables for the summer months. In fact, they thrive in higher temperatures. They still need shade, water, and general maintenance, but these vegetables are genetically built to manage the summer heat.
Gardening during any season has its challenges, but summer can be one of the most brutal. Heat dries up the soil and burns a plant’s sensitive leaves. However, the secrets to growing during the hot summer are simple: keep your plants shaded and well hydrated.