When summer’s heat is baking your garden, you need to make some changes to how you’re managing your garden in order to keep it producing well while avoiding potential pitfalls that crop up in the summer months. Fortunately, these changes can be made fairly quickly and without a great deal of extra work if you add a few tools to your toolkit. Here’s a quick look at changes that happen during summer garden management.
Redbud’s Guide to Summer Home Garden Management
Summer Crop Selection
When summer gets hot, many of your early crops, such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach, radishes that have sat too long in the ground, lettuce and other early crops will begin to bolt, or send up flower heads and form seeds for the next season. Peas will begin to yellow and brown in the heat, with any unpicked peas drying out in preparation for the next sowing. If this describes your garden, it’s time to replant for summer’s heat.
If you have an interest in saving seed and used non-hybrid seed, you can save the dried seeds to plant later in the fall or the next spring. If you store the seeds in plastic, add a few grains of rice or a desiccant packet from a shoe box, pill bottle or similar source to keep the seed dry. The other option is to store the seeds in paper envelopes to help keep them dry, in which case the paper acts as the desiccant.
When replanting, it’s important to stick to plants that are comfortable in the summer heat, such as corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, peppers, okra, eggplant, melons, cucumbers, gourds and similar plants. This allows you to get the best production out of the current season’s plants without a lot of extra work. You can grow some lettuce and other cool-season crops during this time, but you’ll need to keep a mist system on the plants to keep them cool.
Subdue the Weeds
Many weed species love the summer heat and are happy to take advantage of your struggling garden plants during this time. Starting with clean garden soil is a great way to keep them from being too crazy to keep up with, but it’s not your only option. However, if you are having weeds crop up in your garden, make sure to remove them as soon as possible, as they are taking sunlight, moisture and nutrients away from your plants.
(remove weeds in your summer garden)
To start, you’ll want to learn how to identify weeds. Part of this is just dirt time, getting to know what should and should not be growing in your garden. Planting in neat rows with regular spacing between the plants you’re trying to grow also makes it easier to pick out weeds that are not growing where your expected plants should be.
An old gardener’s trick for removing weeds from the garden is to do so right after you’ve watered or it’s rained. At that point, the soil is loose from the moisture and it’s much easier to get the entire weed out, roots and all. It’s often the only way to get stubborn biennial weeds out that form a strong taproot. If you’re dealing with a particularly stubborn weed, shove a stick down next to the plant and wiggle it around to loosen up the soil. If needs be, pour more water down the hole made by the stick and repeat until the weed comes up.
To keep weeds at a minimum and keep the soil moist, consider adding mulch as soon as your plants are established, which shades weed seeds and the soil surface, also allowing it to retain moisture. This helps reduce the amount of watering and weeding you’ll need to do during the hot times of the year. Natural mulches like Bermuda hay mulch or cottonseed hulls do a great job of keeping weeds at bay while retaining moisture. All you have to do is spread the mulch over the soil’s surface, leaving a little room around new plants to be able to get air and sunlight.
Dealing with Drought Stress
Summer’s heat makes it tougher than ever to keep your plants watered. If you’ve noticed your plants wilting, they need more water. If plants don’t receive enough water, they go through drought stress, which can impact the amount of water the plants hold. This is why you’ll see the plants wilt, because they don’t have enough water to maintain their structure.
(summer heat & less rain can bring drought stress to your garden)
However, beyond structure, water also helps plants grow. It’s part of the photosynthesis cycle, where your plants use carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and water you supply to produce carbohydrates, turning into food that people can eat. It allows the plant to move nutrients around within the plant’s structures, allowing it to grow healthy and strong. Here are some tips to help you deal with drought stress in soil.
To start, make sure that your soil has good capacity to hold water. If your plants are starting to wilt within a few hours on a hot day, your soil may not be holding enough water. This is especially true of sandy soils or soil that doesn’t have much organic matter. Fortunately, you can add soil amendments to fix the problem in most circumstances. Bentonite clay holds water in the moisture, compost adds organic matter to hold moisture and nutrients, greensand can loosen heavy clay soils to allow the water to sink in more fully and powdered aloe improves your plant’s ability to take up water.
Add soil amendments. If your soil has a poor capacity to hold water, whether it’s sandy or simply doesn’t have a lot of organic matter, there are a number of soil amendments that can boost your soil’s ability to take up water. What kind of amendments? Bentonite clay is a type of amendment that holds tons of water, while greensand loosens heavy clay soils, compost holds a ton of water and nutrients and powdered aloe helps plants take up water more efficiently.
Though you’d think watering during the heat of the day would get water on the plants when they need it most, it’s actually the worst time to water. Water droplets in strong sunlight can act as a lens, causing damage to your plants. Instead, water early in the morning or last thing in the evening so that the water can soak thoroughly into the soil where your plant roots need it most.
During the worst heat of summer, consider adding some form of irrigation. Though this can be as simple as tossing a sprinkler in your garden and turning it on for a half hour or so, make sure that you’re checking whether all of the plants are receiving enough moisture, as taller plants and sprinkler patterns can create zones where other plants are getting virtually no moisture. Another option is to consider soaker hoses or micro-irrigation which uses small hoses, drippers or tiny sprinkler heads to only water a small area of the soil surface.
(use sprinklers if your plants need water)
If you schedule is very busy and you add irrigation to reduce your time commitment, look at adding a garden timer to your system. Typically around $30-50 for basic models, you can simply set them to water for a set period of time a certain number of times daily. As with sprinklers, make sure to check that all of your plants are getting sufficient water to ensure they continue producing for you.
Insect Pest Management
In addition to weeds, insect pests can make your gardening dreams a nightmare very quickly, so it’s important to stay on top of the problem. Add yellow insect traps in a couple of areas to your garden so that you can monitor populations. If you start having a lot more of one type of insect on your traps suddenly, it’s time to take action to control the population and keep them from destroying your hard work.
But what can you do outside of monitoring? Keep your plants healthy, as insects will go after easy-to-attack plants that are having problems before they go after your healthy plants. Healthy plants are also better able to deal with insect damage and recover successfully compared to plants that are in poor condition. Make sure to add compost tea or a liquid plant food to your irrigation water to keep your plants growing healthy and strong.
Add diatomaceous earth at the base of your plants or consider distributing the powder lightly along branches and vines. A powder from microscopic fossilized marine creatures, the tiny, sharp edges won’t bother you or your pets, but they’ll cut insect pests drastically. It cuts through insect shells, allowing hard-shelled insect pests to dry out. It has some limited ability to help with soft-bodied pests as well, though scattering dried, crumbled egg shells around your plants will do more to deter slugs and snails.
Adding beneficial insects to your garden, such as green lace wings, soldier beetles, praying mantis and lady bugs. These bugs prey on harmful insects, keeping them at bay and their populations at a minimum. Explore what kind of habitat they need and make sure to provide some so they can thrive in your garden’s environment.
Beat the Heat
Though the above suggestions will reduce a lot of the stress your plants will face in the summer months, the simple fact is that sometimes just the heat will cause damage to your plants, especially if you want to grow tender greens during the worst of summer’s heat. Fortunately, there are a few ways to get around this that will help you keep your garden very productive during even the worst heat of summer in almost all circumstances.
Add shade. This can be as simple as adding tulle fabric or sheer fabrics to create shade for plants that are constantly wilting. However, one excellent way to get both production and shade out of your garden is by adding hoops over your beds which will support climbing vines. In the photo example here, a 16’ cattle panel, usually available for around $20-25 at most farm supply stores, is bent with the ends about four feet apart, fastened to stakes or metal fence posts to maintain the curve. You’ll get a rounder curve with stakes, a straighter edge and sharper curve at the top with the fence posts. See how the scarlet runner beans love climbing while providing partial shade to the plants below? We have these hoops on several of our beds and they work wonderfully.
(trellis can be used to shade other plants)
Mist your plants during the heat of the day. Though you don’t want to water the plants directly due to the danger of damage to your plants from water lenses, adding a few mist nozzles helps keep your plants cool. They don’t cause damage because most of the water, in the form of a very fine mist, evaporates while in the air, cooling the air around your plants by about ten to twenty degrees. This is a great short-term option during periods of extreme heat, such as during a heat wave or when you have heat advisories in your area. Though they work best in drier climates, they will do some good even in humid weather. If you have hard water and the nozzles begin to clog up, remove them and soak them in plain household white vinegar to remove the calcium buildup that forms. Rinse them well, reinstall them and they’ll work very well again.
Summer can be a tough time for keeping up with your garden, but by keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be able to enjoy your time in the garden while minimizing the amount of work you’ll need to put into it and keeping it producing nicely. If you need help finding the perfect products for your garden’s needs, why not take a look at all that Redbud Soil Company has to offer the home and market gardener? We’re always happy to help you meet your gardening needs with healthy, natural products.