Wow….Florida’s Hot Summer is no joke when it comes to being hot and humid. The hardiest of us often wilt under the onslaught of oppressive humidity and heat. Imagine, then being a plant that can’t run into the air conditioning to cool off!
Many gardens suffer during the Summer months, and for good reason. It’s brutal! But if you’re looking for some tips to make the best of the heat for the season and keep your crops growing better, we’re covering that here in this blog. Let’s get started!
Florida’s Hot Summer Garden Tip #1: Shade Cloth
It may seem obvious, but so many don’t think about utilizing this simple solution for their gardens (as shade cloths are also great for patios so us humans can keep cool outside!)
Shade cloth can be utilized in many different ways, from large cloths attached to tall poles to making shaded tunnels over individual rows. It works in an opposite way that a greenhouse works for you – cools the air and keeps the ground for warming up, so your plants have a chance to breathe.
This cloth comes in various colors and shade factors, they are categorized normally by the percentage of light they block. In order for the shade cloth to be effective in the Summertime, I recommend at least 50% shade.
Our new shade structure at the store is 50% shade and we notice a definite difference in temperature under its awning.
Now, you can put support poles up as permanent structures, and then clip or tie the shade cloth to it over the Summer months. You can also put up temporary structures, such as PVC hoops or wet bamboo bent into a hoop that you sink the ends into the ground or into a ground frame and then stretch the fabric over. PVC connections can be easily disassembled and reassembled and built to any height and width you need.
You would take the shade down when the hours of sunlight start to diminish in the Fall (and the sun moves more to a Southern track in the sky). Your plants still get the light they need but the heat doesn’t accumulate so much because they’re more protected. And you still get ventilation so that the heat doesn’t build up under the shade.
Extra bonus, when you’re pulling weeds, you’re in the shade!
Florida’s Hot Summer Garden Tip #2: Mulching
Mulching is really the understated hero of the garden. Not only does it protect fragile root systems from freezing in the Winter, it also protects the soil underneath from heating up too much in the Summer!
A 4″ layer of mulch – whether it’s leaf mulch (read my article about leaf mulch), natural wood mulch, hay, straw, or grass clippings (that doesn’t have grass or weed seeds in it!) – keeps the ground underneath it 15-25 degrees cooler in Summer. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true!
I suggest a 6-8″ layer applied in the late Spring or early Summer for your Summer garden, as mulch will settle and break down pretty fast in the heat…and you don’t necessarily want to be mulching again when the heat index is hitting 120 degrees Fahrenheit, right?
Mulching also helps retain water in the soil so it’s not all evaporating away from your plants’ roots. Plants can’t be heat AND water stressed. Hot air with dry soil is a recipe for plant disaster. Water deeply early in the morning and let the mulch keep it there!
Florida’s Hot Summer Garden Tip #3: Try Interplanting
Ever heard of Square Foot Gardening? That’s kind of a really rigidly-structured form of interplanting.
In this case, Interplanting is planting sun-loving taller plants interspersed with other plants that could use a little shade. So, mix corn and sunflowers that grow taller with beans, watermelons, squash vines, nasturtiums, etc., that could benefit from some shade in the afternoons so they don’t get scorched.
The vines help hold moisture in the soil and block the sun from heating up the soil, and the taller plants shade the shorter ones. Think of the Three Sisters planting scheme and you’re thinking along those lines now.
Another thing you could consider is, for the Summer time, plant your tallest sun-loving plants to the South and West of your garden bed, and your shorter plants “behind” those to the North and East of the tall plants. All your plants get morning and early afternoon sun.
Then as the afternoon moves on, the sun moves to the West, and your taller plants shade the shorter ones for those brutal 2pm and onward afternoon rays.
Yes, that’s the opposite of how you plant a Spring or Fall bed (tallest plants to the North because of the position of the Sun) but for Summer time you need to use every advantage you have to protect your crops and keep them producing.
Florida’s Hot Summer Garden Tip #4: Cover Crops
When you want a low-maintenance way to keep your garden beds from going fallow that will take minimal weeding and care, consider doing a round of cover crops during the Summer months. You could plant them as early as May, definitely by June.
Sure, you won’t get as much food out of it, depending on what cover crops you choose, but you will build nitrogen into the soil, as most cover crops are nitrogen fixers in their root systems OR they’re meant to be tilled under in their prime so that their decay will create nitrogen enrichment with composting-in-place techniques.
Some cover crops I like that produce food are zipper peas and blackeyed peas (aka cowpeas). They’ve been a little hard to find but they are around – you can check out our bulk seed section to see what’s in stock here at the store for a very reasonable price!
Cover crops are meant to be sown tightly and grow to cover as much soil as possible, so you don’t have to worry about thinning. A little weeding at the beginning to keep the most invasive ones at bay until your seedlings take off, and mulching once they’re tall enough to take it, and a consistent watering schedule (do yourself a favor and get a sprinkler and a timer, ok?) is really all you need for Summer cover crops.
Then a couple of weeks before you’re ready to plant your Fall crops, either pull/shred/drop/hand till or shovel mix your cover crops into the soil or just till them in without pulling (use a more powerful tiller or get some friends to help you hand till, your back and arms will thank me later). Mulch another thick layer so you can prevent weeds.
In a couple of weeks your soil is ready for Fall planting – you’ll want your soil to be ready by Labor Day weekend, so till under about mid-August. And most of the time, before you tilled those plants under, you got to harvest some peas from them!! Bonus!
Those are the tips that are top of mind when gardening in Florida’s Hot Summer. Do you do any of these already? Did you find this helpful? Let me know in the comments below or drop me a line and say hi. Your feedback is welcome, as always.
Until next time, Keep Growing!