Although some plants like basil, peppers, and eggplant love warm temperatures, many other plants (particularly those that favor cool weather) shut down when the mercury hits the mid-80s. This means that they stop growing, stop producing fruit, and start to look a bit sad. This happens to crops like lettuce, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and cilantro. It’s no wonder, either — after all, they’re just trying to stay alive! Even warm-weather-loving plants can struggle when it gets too hot. What’s a gardener to do to ensure a happy, thriving garden in the dead of summer?
Luckily enough, there are actually a few things you can do to protect your plants and ensure they fare better during the heatwave, whether they naturally love sunlight or would rather avoid it. These tips apply to people in all growing regions.
Mulch not only keeps the skin moist, but it can also reduce the temperature of the soil. If you haven’t applied mulch in the garden yet this year, now is your opportunity to do so. While you should do your best to keep it away from the stems of your plants, you'll want to ensure that every spot in your garden is covered, especially in areas that tend to harbor a lot of weeds.
Water Slowly (but Consistently)
By delivering water slowly to the roots, your plants have more opportunities to absorb it all. Water deeply every week, preferably in the morning when it’s cooler and the water has less of a chance of evaporating. The important thing is to be consistent with your watering routine to ensure optimum plant health. If you have a timer, set it to water early in the morning several days a week, or however often your plants need to get a good soaking.
Weeds compete with your plants for precious nutrients. When your plants are trying to stay alive, they don’t want to compete against other plants. Pull weeds as soon as you spot them to prevent them from spreading too far. Plan to weed at least once a week, or more often if the weeds in your area tend to become a problem in the heat.
Don’t Fertilize Your Plants
Fertilizer encourages plants to grow, which is something they shouldn’t try to do when it’s so hot out. Any growth will take away from the plant being able to sustain itself. Instead, put the fertilizer away and focus on watering and shading for now.
Grow Heat-Tolerant Varieties
If you live in an area where 90-degree days are commonplace in the summer, try to cultivate plants that do well in the heat. After all, many heat-seeking plants need about a month or longer of 80 to 90-degree temperatures in order to thrive Some varieties even resist going to seed when temperatures rise, but others have been bred to handle warmer temperatures. Plants like peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant love hot temperatures. Still, you should consider installing shade cloth (see below) over these crops if temperatures top the 100-degree mark.
Grow Cool-Weather Crops Before or After the Heat of Summer Has Passed
If your area tends to get toasty in July, plan to grow cool-season crops in the late spring and replant a second batch when the heat has died down in September. If you have to have homegrown kale, peas, or broccoli in the middle of summer, think about preserving your last harvest before the hot weather arrives. Keep in mind that your plants may go to seed when temperatures soar. Collect these seeds for net year's planting, if you wish.
By planting close together in raised beds instead of in rows, the foliage of each plant serves to shade the roots and keep the soil cool. Additionally, it helps keep weeds and moisture loss to a minimum.
Install Shade Netting
You'll want to install shade netting, a dark-webbed netting that protects plants from overexposure to heat and sunlight, without preventing your plants from getting adequate water and sunlight. This netting tends to keep soil and air temperatures up to 10 degrees cooler than they would be without it. Shade cloth is a similar concept in that you would also pin it above the plants using hoops or another type of support system. Both items can be purchased online or at the local plant nursery. Be sure to measure the area you’ll be using it over to ensure you purchase enough.
What About Flowers?
Flowers are also susceptible to gloom and droop in hot temperatures. In addition to drooping leaves, their petals may fall off, and new flowers may not appear for some time. Remove dead foliage and flowers, and trim the plants back when the temperatures start to soar. This will help the plants appear neat and tidy and allow them to reserve their resources while temperatures are high. If they’re perennials, they’ll likely come back when the weather starts to cool down again.
Watch for Pests
Heat causes stress in many plants, especially those that don’t thrive in it. A stressed plant is more likely to succumb to harmful insects and disease. For that reason, you'll want to make sure to assess your plants periodically for those things. Treat all issues as soon as you spot them.