In many regions, and particularly here in the southeast, it’s that icky time of year again. The summer heat (and humidity) is back. Coping with the summer heat can be difficult and is worse for those who are not used to it. But it’s not even a picnic for our garden plants. Here are some tips that I use in the garden that may work for you, regardless of where you are.
Learn more about average summer heat days
Check out your growing seasons and how fast they come and go. Here in North Carolina, for example, our last few years seem to go directly from winter to summer, with limited spring days. In fact, most of our spring weather today tends to happen while the calendar says it’s winter. Thank you, global warming!
Sometimes it is helpful to know how many heat days there will be next summer. Using the heat zone map is a precise way to estimate the number of torrid days you can expect each summer. Each zone includes average summer heat days when temperatures are 86 F. (30 C.) or higher. This allows preparation for the afternoon heat – most of the time. Remember, nature still dictates the actual temperature and that can change in an instant with little or no warning. It is not uncommon to experience a sudden summer heat wave outside of your “normal” heat.
Manage the summer heat in the garden
Although I am not an expert at all, I have been gardening for a long time and have dealt with hot and humid conditions much longer than I mean. With that in mind, here are some tips on how to survive the summer heat in the garden.
- Protect plants from the scorching midday sun. Use various combinations to protect your fruit and vegetables from the summer heat. Maybe add a shade cloth for the hottest part of the day, water early in the morning to help cool down the roots and keep the plants shredded. Mulch not only helps isolate the roots, keeping them fresher, but also helps to retain moisture.
- Grow plants in containers. Growing in containers is another way to keep plants in the shade of the scorching afternoon sun. The pots can be moved to shady places nearby. Put heavy saucepans on the rollers for easy movement. Keep in mind, however, that container plants require more water than those planted in the ground, especially on those very hot days.
- Take advantage of the shade in the landscape. In hot summer regions like mine, it helps to position your garden bed where it provides afternoon shade or even dappled sun for a few hours a day. Less of the full sun can encourage a smaller crop, but better a smaller crop than any crop. In most cases, the afternoon shade protects plants that cannot tolerate temperatures above 86 degrees. You can also provide shade by placing the garden near an outdoor structure that casts afternoon shade. Some areas of my garden are in the shade for a few hours at noon and in both the morning and late afternoon sun. This provides adequate sun for a number of crops.
- Be more careful about what to plant and when. If your area tends to have fewer spring days, wait until late summer to plant high season crops that take a long time to reach maturity. Crops such as beets, carrots, cabbage and broccoli will have colder days to reach full size in the autumn garden. If you expect a lot of hot days that start early, which is becoming quite the norm these days in our neck of the woods, let yourself be motivated in spring and plan early ripening crops, hot season as soon as temperatures allow. Some argue that certain (bush) tomatoes fall into this category, while indeterminate (vine) tomatoes prefer colder temperatures. Sometimes, tomatoes won’t ripen on the vine if it’s too hot outside.
- Water and collect early whenever possible. Irrigation and harvesting are best done early in the morning before the sun is strong on the garden. It is best to water when no sun hits the plants. Water at the roots, keeping leaves and fruits dry. Harvesting is tastier when harvested and pulled early in the day. If you can’t get out early, wait until late afternoon to water, fertilize and even harvest. Sometimes, it may be necessary to water both in the morning and in the evening. Some wilting is expected on days like this, but excessive wilting is usually a sign of lack of nutrients.
- Don’t forget about self-care. Take care of yourself on the hottest days and you will provide better care for your plants. Avoid the possibility of heat stroke and sunburn.