Are you feeling it yet? That blistering white-hot H-E-A-T that signals that Summer is actually here already?
Yeah, me too. It’s starting to feel like a muggy oven out there, and actually, the heat can be dangerous if you don’t stay covered and hydrated appropriately. I know if I overheat and don’t drink enough water I get “wicked headaches” (borrowed that term from a Boston friend). So don’t do that!!
For most gardeners, summertime is a time to move some plants to areas that get a bit of afternoon shade, and to pull other plants out entirely when they can’t take the heat. I know that my compost pile is happy at this time of year. It’s also a brutal time if you’re battling powdery mildew (on top of the leaf), downy mildew (under the leaf), or other such funguses. Even if you’re only watering in the mornings so the sun can dry your crops, afternoon showers can ruin that attempt to keep your plant leaves dry and leave them soaking wet all night long…and you’ve lost Battle Fungus.
I’m not complaining – the weather here is actually why we have such success growing food, ornamentals, shrubs, & trees. But learning how to adapt to the weather we’re given is a key strategy for gardening success. Funny thing is…the rules change every single year. But there are some general Summertime planting guidelines that will help you get through the season that feels like we’re sitting on the surface of the sun!
Summer Gardening Tip #1 – Let The Healthy Spring Crops Keep Producing
Just because it’s Summer doesn’t mean that you necessarily MUST pull a plant. If the plant is healthy, disease-free, and still producing flowers, edible leaves, fruits, and/or veggies, let it be. Keep taking care of it, harvesting as needed, treating for pests as needed (hand-picking, organic, or regular methods all apply).
As we transition from Spring to Summer, worms become a huge issue, and you’ll need to be diligent picking them off and/or applying BT regularly.
Some of the crops that might transition well from Spring to Summer include:
- Tomatoes, especially the smaller cherry, grape, and Everglades Florida Native variety tomatoes
- Peppers – from Sweet Bells to Mild Poblano Anchos, to Jalapenos, Habeneros, Serranos and more, peppers have always grown really well for me in the Summertime.
- Georgia Collards – they were REALLY hard to get ahold of this year from our grower (they had some issues with powdery mildew and had to discontinue them), but if you were lucky enough to pick up some Collards in early February from our plant shelves, they’re still producing great greens right now.
- Onions – you can still grow great green and bulbing onions this time of year. Want some onion-growing tips? Here you go.
- Sunflowers and some other annuals, such as marigolds, geraniums, pentas, pom pom flowers, zinnias, sunpatiens (in partial to full shade), coleus (in full shade), and some types of begonias too.
- Woody-stemmed herbs like Rosemary and English Thyme (I know that last one is debateable, but my English Thyme grows really well partially shaded).
- Herbs in the Mint Family – if not potted they can become aggressive, so they’re pretty hardy!! These include Mint, Peppermint, Spearmint, Chocolate Mint, and Catnip, among others.
Summer Gardening Tip #2 – Plant for the Heat
Maybe this seems obvious, maybe it doesn’t. This time of year, big box stores will sell you winter/early Spring crops, because they don’t really care that those plants most likely won’t survive. So, things like lettuces, broccoli, leafy greens & herbs, cabbages, squash, and more are sold to you in May in Florida, when their chances of survival are slim, at best. Don’t fall for it, unless you’re a really experienced gardener or have a microclimate in your yard that allows for survival of these delicate plants!
Lettuces for the most part are too fragile for the heat and would require almost constant shade this time of year to even possibly survive. Broccoli, cabbages, and many leafy greens require cold to be flavorful, which is why they make great winter crops. And with the heat, these plants will sing their final opera and send up their flower shoots and go to seed right away, seeing the writing on the wall…or rather, the thermometer.
For Summer, there are still some great crops you can grow, and you should!!
- Sunflowers and native wildflowers will grow really well in our regular soil (without amending – but a top dressing of compost is really helpful!). If you’re looking to produce Sunflower Seeds, we have a lot of options for you, including bulk seed that has a decent germination rate, come check out our selection! Both of these are great for our local butterflies and pollinators. See flawildflowers.org for more details and species that will help!
- Okra is a high-heat rock star, producing beautiful flowers followed by many, many tender pods for eating or pickling (pick them young – they get very tough when they’re older!). They will produce well even in 100+ degree heat – just make sure they are sufficiently watered! They are water hogs, and you’ll see why when you plant them – they make enormously thick stalks!
- Cowpeas and black-eyed peas are awesome nitrogen-fixers for the soil – you can grow them all summer, eat the delicious peas, and then till the stalks/leaves under a couple of weeks before your fall planting.
- Sweet potatoes LOVE the heat and will flourish all summer. You can eat the youngest tender leaves in salad, a bonus treat for you while you wait on the tubers to finish up at the first cold snap in the Fall/Winter. Need more sweet potato growing tips? Take a look here.
Summer Gardening Tip #3 – Increase Your Watering As Needed & Cover Soil to Hold Water
Your plants will need more water as it gets hotter, just like us humans. And just like our own skin, when a plant gets too hot, their leaf pores open and they release water vapor to cool the air immediately around them. If they don’t have enough water to replace what they release, they will wilt, which is characterized by leaves shriveling and stems bending/curling.
One of the ways to help plants hold on to some of the water from your irrigation is to mulch over the soil to help cool the soil and prevent evaporation from the sun. This can be done with compost, wood mulch, pine straw (fresh), dry leaves, hay, etc. Covering the soil is one of the key concepts of the Earthbox system – and one of the reasons these boxes are so successful. In a ground garden or raised bed, your mulch can be tilled under at your next planting, adding organic material to your soil that will break down over time and provide a steady stream of nutrients to your plants as well as increase water retention. Over time, continuing to add organic materials to your soil will make your garden area soil very nutrient dense and loamy, and less sandy.
Another way to conserve water is to use an organic-grower safe product called Hydretain. Hydretain, when applied in your next watering, helps bind water to the roots of your plants/turf/ornamentals and keeps it available to the plants for longer. It can save up to 50% of your normal irrigation water usage – it’s completely worth it, and really helps with that late-afternoon wilt that is so prevalent in Florida Summer gardens.
Summer Gardening Tip #4 – Observe & Report
Ever been part of a neighborhood watch group? The police contact for a neighborhood watch group will tell you that your job as a participant is to observe and report.
Well, it’s the same for your garden. Observe your garden daily, and at different times of day, to see where the sun and shade areas are, what plants wilt in the afternoon, what plants are no longer producing fruits and can be pulled, etc.
A garden journal is a helpful tool for this – if you’ve read my blog over time you’ll see this suggestion often because it’s really great to have records of what works, what didn’t, and brilliant ideas that come to you over your gardening career.
Summer Gardening Tip #5 – Solarize if You’ve Got Soil Issues
So, your garden got Fusarium Wilt, or Root-Knot Nematodes, or is just overrun with a horrendous invasive weed problem. Or, it’s just too dang hot to be out there working in the veggie garden.
One thing you can do to use that heat and eliminate those problems is to Solarize your soil. I wrote an article about that some time ago, and I invite you to go see it now if you’re interested in the particulars. Solarize Your Soil.
Note: You don’t need to Solarize your soil if you don’t have problems that are soil-borne. Solarizing will sterilize the top couple of inches of your soil, including the good organisms, so only use it if you’ve been overrun with problems.
Do you have any great Summer gardening tips? Feel free to share them in the comments below!
I hope this article was helpful to you for navigating our fiercely hot Summers while still having gardening fun.
As a reminder, Our last Monthly Community Seed Swap of the Spring 2019 season happens this Saturday, May 18, 2019, from 8:30-10:30 am. This is a free event – more details on the swap right here.
See you soon!