The summer heat can be just what our gardens need to grow amazing vegetables and herbs. Or it can completely burn up the garden. Here are some tried and true tips for keeping your vegetable and herb garden healthy and growing through the summer heat.
Most vegetable plants need an inch of water per week, but during the summer they need 2-3 times that. That doesn’t mean that if you happen to get 3 inches of rain in a week, you don’t have to water at all that week. You still might need to water.
When you water, it’s important to water deeply and give the garden bed a full inch of water at a time. Watering deeply encourages the roots to grow down towards the water. If you water shallowly but often, only the top few inches of soil will be moist and the roots will stay near the soil surface.
To calculate how much water you need, multiply the square footage of the garden bed (or area) by .62 gallons. My beds are 4’x8′ which is 32 square feet.
32sq ft X .62 gallons of water = 19.84 gallons of water
To figure out how long I needed to water each bed so that it gets 20 gallons of water, I timed how long it took to fill up a five gallon bucket and then multiplied that number by 4. For my water pressure it takes 1.5 minutes to fill up a five gallon bucket. So each bed needs to be watered for 6 minutes to mimic 1″ of rainfall.
During the heat of the summer I’ll water each bed 3-4 times a week. It’s important to let the soil dry out a little as no vegetable likes to be in soggy soil all the time. Over watering can kill plants, even during the heat of the summer. Pretty much all plants will have droopy leaves at the end of a hot day, that doesn’t mean it needs to be watered. If the leaves are droopy in the morning, then the plant does need to be watered.
Other Watering Tips
Ideally, you’ll want to water in the evening to limit evaporation but if there’s powdery mildew on the plants, you might want to water in the morning.
Always water the soil and not the plant. I know it’s super temping to spray the droopy leaves to help them perk up. Don’t do it. Watering the leaves or having water splash up on the leaves from the soil can spread disease.
Provide Some Afternoon Shade
Most vegetables and herbs prefer full sun, but full sun doesn’t mean all day sun. Full sun actually means at least 6 hours of sun. This means that if you have a spot that gets a little shade in the afternoon, it might be a better spot for a garden than a spot that doesn’t get afternoon protection.
If you live in a climate that has long hot summers, you might consider protecting your garden with shade cloth. Shade cloth blocks some of the UV rays but not all of them and it does not block airflow.
I know a lot of gardeners prune their tomatoes of the “suckers” which are branches that don’t produce much fruit. And there are times when pruning is appropriate. If it’s been working for you then keep doing it but if you live in a climate that has harsh summers, you should consider not pruning.
But that extra foliage protects the tomatoes from getting sun scorched. Sun scorching is basically a sunburn on the tomatoes that doesn’t go away and will eventually cause the tomato to rot.
The same is true for other vegetables that you might normally prune, like squash. Leave some protective leaves.
When most people think of mulching their garden, they think of the weed control benefit. But mulch also help keep the water from evaporating from the soil. It also helps keep the soil cooler.
Some common mulches for the vegetable garden are straw, old hay, pine needles, leaf litter and wood chips. There are pros and cons to each type of mulch but I’ve found all of them to work well.
Unlike compost, mulch is laid on top of the soil as a barrier and not worked into the soil. Over time, the mulch will decompose and help build healthy soil for the future.
The heat of the summer is not the time to fertilize your plants. Heat stresses all parts of the plant including the roots and fertilizing can actually cause more stress to them.
but You can top dress with finished compost or add a low nitrogen natural fertilizer but don’t use commercial fertilizers that have a nitrogen number of more than 3 because they contain a lot of salt which can burn and stress your plants.
Reconsider Your Growing Seasons
Most of us think of our growing season as the days between our last frost (in the spring) and the first frost (in the fall) but for those of us who live in climates with mild winters and long hot summers, the growing season is more like mid-September to mid-July.
For the summer garden, it’s important to pick vegetable varieties that will mature before the “dead of summer” sets in. Most vegetables won’t produce when the temperatures are in the upper 90s. If you only have a few days or weeks of those temperatures you can probably keep the plant alive by watering and protecting it from the sun. When the heat breaks, the plant will start to produce again. But if you have several months of super high temperatures it’s better time the harvest for before the heat sets in.
Protecting Your Garden Year Round
Gardens are never a one and done project, even if that garden is full of perennials. There are always things that need tending to, especially when seasons change. If you live in a cold weather climate, maybe summer is a mild time for you but winter is harsh. Don’t worry, you can still garden in the winter when you use some of these winter gardening tips.
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