In many regions, and especially here in the Southeast, it’s that icky time of year again. The summer heat (and humidity) is back. Dealing with summer heat can be difficult and it’s worse for those who are not accustomed to it. But it’s no picnic for our garden plants either. Here are some tips that I use in the garden that may work for you too, regardless of where you’re located.
Learn about Average Summer Heat Days
Take a good look at your growing seasons and how quickly they come and go. Here in North Carolina, for example, our most recent years seem to go straight from winter to summer, with limited spring days. In fact, most of our springtime weather nowadays tends to happen while the calendar says it’s winter. Thanks, global warming!
Sometimes, it’s helpful to know how many heat days there will be in the coming summer. Using the Heat Zone Map is an accurate way to estimate the number of scorching days you can expect each summer. Each zone includes the average summer heat days when temperatures are at or above 86 F. (30 C.). This allows preparation for afternoon heat – most of the time. Remember, nature still dictates the actual temperature and that can change in an instant with little to no warning. It is not uncommon to experience a sudden summer heat wave that outside your “normal” hot weather.
Dealing with Summer Heat in the Garden
While I’m by no means an expert, I’ve been gardening a long time and have dealt with hot, humid conditions far longer than I care to say. With that in mind, here are some tips on how to survive summer heat in the garden.
- Guard plants against scorching midday sun. Use various combinations to keep your growing fruit and vegetables protected from the heat of summer. Maybe add a shade cloth for the hottest part of the day, water early in the morning to help cool the roots, and keep the plants mulched. Mulch not only helps insulate the roots, keeping them cooler, but also helps conserve moisture.
- Grow plants in containers. Growing in containers is another way to keep plants shaded from scorching afternoon sun. Pots can be moved to shady locations nearby. Put heavy pots on rollers to make moving them easier. Keep in mind, however, that container plants require more water than those planted in-ground, especially on those very hot days.
- Take advantage of shade in the landscape. In hot summer regions like mine, it helps to place your garden bed where it gets afternoon shade or even dappled sun for a few hours daily. Less than full sun may encourage a smaller harvest, but better a diminished crop than no crop at all. In most situations, afternoon shade protects the plants that won’t tolerate 86-plus-degree temperatures. You can also provide shade by locating the garden near an outdoor structure that casts afternoon shade. Some of my garden areas get shade for a few hours at midday, and both morning and late afternoon sun. This provides adequate sun for a number of crops.
- Be more mindful of what to plant and when. If your area tends to have fewer spring days, wait until late summer to plant cool-season crops that take a long time to reach maturity. Crops like beets, carrots, cabbage, and broccoli will have more cool days to reach full size in the fall garden. If you expect lots of hot days starting early on, which is becoming quite the norm these days in our neck of the woods, get motivated in spring and plant early maturing, warm season crops as soon as temperatures allow. Some say determinate (bush) tomatoes fit in this category while indeterminate (vining) tomatoes prefer cooler temperatures. Sometimes, tomatoes won’t ripen on the vine if it is too hot outside.
- Water and harvest early whenever possible. Watering and harvesting are best done in the early morning before the sun is strong on the garden. It is best to water when no sun is hitting the plants. Water at the roots, keeping foliage and fruits dry. The harvest is more flavorful when picked and pulled early in the day. If you can’t get out early, wait until late in the afternoon to water, fertilize, and even harvest. On occasion, you might need to water both in the morning and evening. Some wilting is expected on days like this, but extreme wilting is usually a sign that nutrients are lacking.
- Don’t forget about self-care. Take care of yourself during hotter days and you’ll provide better care to your plants. Avoid chances of heatstroke and sunburn.