Preparing your Garden for Hot Summer Weather

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Using cloth to shade plants in hot weather

No matter where you live, sometime this summer your garden will swelter in a heat wave. It already feels like an oven in much of the central USA, but the rest us have time to prepare. Now is the time to tweak your garden for the hot weather to come, because few things feel sadder than watching a good garden shrivel away when it's too hot to do anything about it.

First, look at your crop list and make the most of crops with tropical temperaments like the tomato family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, sweet potato), dry beans, lima beans, or even okra. My luck stops with the tomato family because of my moderate summer climate, but I find that many types of winter squash make fantastic summer crops.

Winter squashes make fantastic summer crops
Winter squashes make fantastic summer crops

Cultivars that are of the Cucurbita maxima species are especially great because they readily develop supplemental roots where the stems touch the ground, thus helping to drought-proof themselves. Above ground, the vigorous foliage shades out weeds and helps keep the soil cool on hot summer days. Popular C. maxima cultivars include 'Burgess Buttercup', 'BonBon' and 'Black Forest' and other kabocha squash.

Why Mulch?

A surface mulch of grass clippings, straw, rough compost, weathered sawdust (the list goes on) will help keep the soil cool and moist while suppressing the growth of weeds. Reducing the temperature of the soil with a deep mulch is especially beneficial to potatoes and other root crops, which generally prefer cool soil conditions. And, one of the reasons why mulching is so important to tomatoes is the moderating effect it has on soil moisture. When my soil is never allowed to dry out, I suffer but a few cracked fruits.

With crops like tomatoes that stay in the ground all summer, I like to apply mulch over a soaker hose, which can be turned on at low pressure before my sweet corn, tomatoes, or peppers run short of water. Many crops like sweet corn have critical times when they absolutely must have water. A drought that hits when corn is tasseling can reduce yields by half. Similarly, squash and beans need moisture most when they are in blossom and setting fruit.

Using netting or cloth to shade plants
Using netting or cloth to shade plants

One of the main reasons why I mulch is that I don't want to weed and water in hot weather, if I had the time. Harvesting, preserving, and planting late season veggies has me getting up early and staying out late, leaving no time for weeds. Fortunately, a good mulch can reduce weed emergence by 80 percent and reduce watering needs by 30 percent or more, which is exactly why mulch really does matter.

Shade Covers for Vegetables

When the sun intensity ratings are off the chart and you have tomatoes and peppers ripening on the vine, or perhaps young beans just coming into bloom, you can easily turn down the heat with shade covers made of cloth, snow fencing, window screens, or numerous other materials. Some shade covers block more light than others, so you must gauge your remedies accordingly. For example, I use a very light shade cover made from a double thickness of tulle (wedding net) to protect my peppers from sunscald, whereas I'm likely to cover a spot seeded with late squash with a cardboard box until the seeds germinate. When transplanting seedlings in hot weather, I routinely cover them with upturned clay flowerpots for two to three days before releasing them to the sun.

Pole beans benefit by being shaded from the sun by nearby sweet corn
Pole beans benefit by being shaded from the sun by nearby sweet corn

I also make use of natural shade screens created by living plants. Pole beans planted at the ends of my corn rows benefit from partial shade early on, and eventually smother the failing corn stalks with their exuberant foliage. Flowering annual vines can be used to great advantage, too. In my climate, thunbergia (clock vine) and cypressvine morning glory do not reseed successfully, so I often plant them on the ends of trellises used to support spring peas. There they form a summer shade screen for autumn veggies planted at their feet. Do be careful, because some annual vines including beautiful morning glories can be terribly invasive. You will never have this problem if you grow sunflowers as shade screen plants.

A friend who has too many pine trees on his property cuts little ones, sticks the bases in buckets of soil, and moves them around his garden as very natural green screen type shade covers. Gardeners are such resourceful people!

Please share summer survival strategies that have worked for you in your organic garden.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Show Comments


""No matter where you live, sometime this summer your garden will swelter in a heat wave" Unless you live in England, in which case an article on growing crops in torrential rain would be more apt ;op"
Bex on Friday 29 June 2012
"Here is a video of what I did in the blazing summer heat of Utah - Half way through the video I show what I did to get my pepper plants to thrive in the 100 degree heat."
David Webb on Friday 29 June 2012
"Well we in the UK can start to grow using hydroponics ;0)"
Gary on Saturday 7 July 2012
"I live in the San Antonio area, and it is hot here. I had peppers and tomatoes since the end of Feb but now it is all burned up. I am going to pull it all up and will know better next spring. I will prepare ahead. Thanks for the tips"
Sandra Little on Saturday 14 July 2012
"Sandra, It's not too late to plant more right now. Look at my video, those were planted later than this date and still produced. Just put up shade and use lots of compost or mulch as a ground cover. I got my green shade fabric at Lowe's, but I bet Home Depot has it too."
David Webb on Saturday 14 July 2012
"I put up a shade tarp to protect my plants from Oklahoma hail storms. It has saved them a few times from icy stones, but had the unplanned benefit of also keeping things alive during the hottest weather while others' gardens have dried up. I bought the 20'x30' heavy white mesh tarp at a local tool shop for about $40. "
Lacy on Monday 13 August 2012
"Hola, escribo desde Peru, en Cusco la época de heladas hace que las plantas mueran de frío por las noches, pero de día es muy caliente, llega 40°C dentro del invernadero. Quiero poner un doble techo para bajar incidencia de quemaduras y el exceso de calor, que me recomiendan??"
Sara on Tuesday 25 June 2013
"I live in Tucson, Arizona. Three very simple things I do are to 1. Plant vegetables that tolerate the heat very well such as cucumber-melons like carosello, sweet potato and hardy pole beans, 2. plant my vegetables far from sources of radiant heat such as block walls and houses where the heat will collect over the day and emit heat at night and 3. Water once every 2-3 days for a longer period of time. The worst thing you can do in a very hot summer is keep the roots close to the top of the ground. By watering at night for 2 hours with a soaker hose you allow the roots to grow deep into the ground where they can stay cool and moist."
Jay on Wednesday 22 January 2014
"Hope this article and comments get some new attention. Wondering how people with the popular galvanized steel livestock tanks, used as raised beds, did in summer heat. (How far away from the hot metal sides do you have to plant?!) My lettuce did really well in 3 months of mostly 100F heat (wooden raised beds), by making a thin cotton shade cloth, supported by 2' narrow tomato cages, and weighted on the ends. Their root zones were shaded by nearby peppers and eggplant, too. I'll use this cloth (muslin) again next summer, and try some fennel, too!"
Sown-ja on Monday 14 December 2020

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