Summer brings heat, and if it’s hot for you, imagine being a plant!

Summer Gardening Tips

School’s out, family vacations are in full swing; water parks, beaches, and gardening.

Gardening?  Well, yeah!

Most importantly, summer brings heat, and if it’s hot for you, imagine being a plant!  Just as too little sunlight is an issue, too much sun is a problem for your garden.

Plants may need sun to reach their full potential, but overexposure will certainly spell disaster for your precious flora.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help you grow a successful garden even during the hottest months.

Let’s dig in!

First some fun facts to give you a leg up in Trivial Pursuit.

Image: NASA

Seasonal temperature variations aren’t a result of proximity to the sun.  When we’re hot in the summer and cold in the winter the reverse is true in the southern hemisphere, so we can speculate it’s not a distance issue.  Actually, Earth’s orbit takes it closest to the Sun in January and farthest from the Sun in July!

Wait a minute, what?  That’s right, it’s not distance that’s heating us up during the dog days, rather, it’s the tilt on Earth’s axis that gives us the extreme variations of heat and cold.

During the summer months the Sun’s rays strike the Earth at a steep angle which intensifies the amount of energy in an area instead of diffusing it.  The angle of the rays and the length of the days results in higher temperatures during the summer months.

In winter, we see the opposite effect, with a shallower angle of impact and much shorter days leading to much colder temperatures.

Average temperatures in the United States during the summer months average between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit, while those states nearer the equator can average 90 degrees or higher.

When we’re hot, we sweat.  Okay, horses sweat, we perspire.

Like us, plants perspire, but the correct term is transpire.  Transpiration is the process of the exhalation of water through stomata, basically pores, which helps to keep a plant cool.

Unlike humans, plants stop transpiring when temperatures reach critical levels.  Though there isn’t a single temperature threshold for all plant species, generally plants stop transpiring between 86-96 degrees Fahrenheit.

So, If you have sensitivity to summer heat, you can bet plants do as well.

So, when growing a garden that’s heat tolerant, the first thing to do is pick hearty summer plants!  Smart seasonal selections are your best bet to ensure a successful summer garden; there are temperature ranges that are optimal for certain plants.

According to NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, summers are getting hotter,  making choosing the right plants even more critical to success.

Credit: NOAA, State of the Climate: Monthly Global Report for Annual 2021, published online January 2022.

Here’s a list of flowers and vegetables the love summer heat:

·      Flowers
·      Madagascar Periwinkles
·      Lantana
·      Petunias
·      Marigolds
·      Black-eyed Susans
·      Vegetables
·      Lima beans
·      Hot peppers
·      Watermelon
·      Cucumbers
·      Okra
·      Sweet potatoes
·      Eggplant
·      Tomatoes - Heirloom
·      Arkansas traveler
·      Eva purple ball
·      Hazelfield farm
·      Homestead
·      Illinois beauty
·      Neptune
·      Tropic
·      Tomatoes - Heirloom
·      Florasette
·      Heatwave II
·      Solar Flare
·      Summer set
·      Sunchaser
·      Sun leaper
·      Sunmaster
·      Sun pride
·      Talladega

Some of the most heat tolerant vegetables are tomatoes and peppers, not just surviving but thriving.

When temperatures reach above 85 degrees your plants may look healthy, but watch for dry blooms that fall off.  Increase their survivability by leveraging the shade of other plants in your garden and plant near the center.  Shade reduces the soil temperatures, assisting in moisture retention and promoting root health.

Remember our discussion of transpiration?  If temperatures reach and hover around 90 degrees, even the most heat-thriving plants will struggle to survive.  If you have a thermometer, track those temperatures and respond appropriately to keep them healthy and productive.

No thermometer?  No problem, keep an eye out for signs of heat stress, such as wilting, blossom and leaf loss, and dull yellow leaves and produce.  Heat stress can damage your garden irrevocably, so take care to prevent it.  Here are a few tips to keep it healthy:

1. Weed your garden

Weeds, which are really native species trying to survive, compete with your garden for nutrients and water.  Removing unwanted flora reduces competition for much needed nutrients, and helps to maintain a proper balance in the soil itself.  Soil is more than dirt, much more; microbes, bacteria, nutrients, water, insects, all contribute to the healthy and productivity of your garden.  The fewer the competing plants, the more successful your flowering and vegetable plants will be.

2. Mulch

For flowering gardens, cover the soil with a thick, organic mulch.  Mulch protects the soil from the drying effects of the sun AND helps with moisture and nutrient retention.  And don’t be afraid to use mulch in the winter months, it acts like a blanket protecting against frost and harsh cold.

3. Keep soil moist

Moist soil acts as a blanket for protecting roots in addition to providing much need water.  The best method is irrigation hoses that provide a gentle release of water into the beds, reducing erosive movement of soil and providing an even distribution of water throughout the garden.  Water should reach to a depth of 4 inches to offer the best protection and feeding of your garden.

4. Shade against direct sunlight

This may seem counterintuitive, but as we’ve already discussed, too much intense sunlight can damage your beautiful garden.  There are a wide variety of garden shade products, or you can use old sheets, as long as they are light colors to reflect light, or window screen mesh.  You can use flexible PVC to erect a structure for your covering, optimally 3-4 feet away from the plants for optimum air flow.  Once the temperatures cool you can remove it.

5. Track the weather

Easiest of all the tips, check the weather every day. Knowing when a heat wave may descend upon us gives you advance notice to protect your garden and save all your hard work!  Saying informed is the best way to protect and nourish your garden.

Seasons present with different challenges, and summer is no exception.  When you’re out applying sunscreen to your arms consider your gardens and how best to apply the same care to it.  By choosing heat tolerant plants, planting them to maximize the shade from other plants, using irrigation techniques to provide water and building shade structures when temperatures exceed plant tolerance, you’ll be sure to see the fruits of your gardening labors!

Happy gardening!

August 1, 2022

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