Even if you’re from here, the intensity of the Texas heat from about June to September can feel alarming at times. You break out in sweat the minute you step outside, you burn your fingers on your black steering wheel, and you plan your day around the intensity of the sun.
Now, imagine how your plants feel. They don’t have the privilege of going back inside, moving to shade, blasting the AC, or taking sips of cold water whenever they need.
They’re stuck outside.
That’s why a lot of gardeners think it’s just too hot here to grow much over the summer. Most plants struggle with anything over 86 degrees, and they certainly can’t take triple-digit temps.
There are, however, five hardy plants that can hang in there, even thrive, in our vegetable gardens during our hottest summer months.
Honestly, we feel so fortunate to have these plants. If it weren’t for them, there wouldn’t be much to look forward to growing and harvesting for about a fourth of the year
Our Short List of the Best Heat-Tolerant Plants
- hot peppers
These plants have several things in common: One, they’re heat-loving plants; two, they can’t be planted outdoors in early spring until absolutely all threat of frost has passed (for those of us in the greater Austin area, that’s mid- to late March; and three, they can’t handle any frost and will not survive the winter time outdoors. With proper care, these five types of plants can survive in even the most intense heat.
By the way, were you disappointed to see a couple “summertime” garden favorites missing? Maybe you were hoping to see tomatoes or squash or beans. These guys actually grow best here in Central Texas during our spring and fall seasons. They’ll slow their production and become stressed when temperatures spike over 90 degrees (and stressed plants invite pests to your garden).
By growing plants that are more tolerant of our Austin climate, you can spare yourself months of frustration wondering why your leaves keep wilting and your fruiting plants stop producing.
Now, let’s look at our five heat-tolerant superstars.
ONE – PEPPERS CAN THRIVE IN EXTREME HEAT
Hot peppers like jalapeños and serranos have long been a popular choice to grow in the Texas garden. The plants are compact and attractive with their pretty little white flowers that turn into shiny fruits. They’re also fairly easy to grow and super productive.
Pepper plants love warm weather, but not all varieties are cut out for the heat. From June to August, stick with hot peppers. These types of peppers can handle our hot climate from early summer through fall and are a great option for beginner gardeners.
Quick guide to growing peppers:
-Peppers can be grown in raised beds or containers at least 12 inches deep.
-Peppers need warm soil to germinate. You can wait till all threat of frost has passed to direct sow seeds, or you can start them indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date for a head start. (Check out our seed starting guide for tips and how-to’s.)
-For the first 6 to 8 weeks after sowing pepper seeds or transplanting peppers to your garden, you’ll want to water every other day or so to maintain a moist soil level. Once peppers plants are established, you can give them one good soaking a week. A drip irrigation system is an efficient way to keep pepper plants watered. (If you don’t have one set up yet, Garden in Minutes has a great grid system that’s super easy to install.)
-Even the hardiest of pepper plants might temporarily slow down its flowering and fruiting during the hottest parts of summer. Keep watering and caring for your pepper plants. They’ll set more fruit once it cools down a bit in the fall.
Check out our guide to growing peppers for more tips.
TWO – EGGPLANT IS LOW MAINTENANCE FOR A FRUITING PLANT
Texas gardeners have a long eggplant growing season thanks to our warm climate. Eggplant grows really well when our temps range from about 70 to 90 degrees F, but it can hang in there even when triple digits are in the forecast.
It’s interesting to think that peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant are all in the same plant family, but tomato plants can’t stand the heat quite like their cousins (what a shame!).
Quick guide to growing eggplant:
-Eggplant grows really well in raised beds. You can also grow dwarf and container-friendly varieties in large pots, grow bags, and containers.
-The spot you choose will need full sun so that eggplant can produce its pretty little star-shaped flowers and then fruit.
-Eggplant can only sprout in warm soil, so you want to give your last frost date about a 2- to 3-week buffer before planting eggplant. For those of us in the greater Austin area, that means early to mid-April (our last frost date is mid-March).
-Once it’s established, water your eggplant only every 5 to 7 days or so to encourage its roots to dig down deep instead of staying close to the surface. Again, drip irrigation is my preferred way of delivering deep and regular waterings to my plants.
-When daytime temperatures are consistently over 95 in the summer, you might notice your eggplant plants producing smaller fruits. That’s normal. Your plant will recover when it cools down a bit in early fall and produce normal-size fruit once more.
Find more tips for growing eggplant in our guide.
THREE – ZINNIAS ARE AN EXCELLENT CHOICE FOR SUMMER HEAT
Zinnias are, hands down, the best flowers to grow for colorful blooms from about May until our first frost of the season. Zinnias are super low maintenance, even on the hottest of days. They’re native to southwestern grasslands, so they can grow in poor soil and are drought-tolerant.
Zinnias come in a variety of colors and will attract pollinators to your space (plant red flowers if you want to see more hummingbirds). You can harvest blooms to bring inside as cut flowers—just be sure to pop them in water quickly.
Quick guide to growing zinnias:
-Zinnias can grow in an in-ground flower bed, containers at least 12 inches deep, or raised beds. They’re not picky about their soil, but well-drained soil is always preferred. Be mindful of the expected height at maturity if you’re planting zinnias in front of other plants since this varies a lot between different varieties.
-Zinnias need full sun to maximize their blooming. Most flowering plants can survive with less sun but won’t bloom as much for you if they get anything under 8 hours of direct sunlight.
-Sow zinnia seeds directly in your garden. You can continue to plant zinnias by seed all the way through about late September for your fall garden. After that, you won’t have enough time to enjoy these plants in your space before frost could come and ruin the zinnia plant party.
-Zinnias can survive on little water. I find it’s best to give them one good soak a week.
Find more tips to grow these stunning flowers in our zinnia growing guide.
FOUR – BASIL THRIVES IN HIGHER TEMPERATURES
Basil makes a great addition to your herb garden for the summer. It comes from a dry Mediterranean climate, so it makes sense that basil would get a gold star for heat tolerance.
Basil is a sun-lover. It’s considered an annual in other places, but gardeners in warmer parts of Texas can sometimes enjoy this herb’s green foliage and fragrant scent year round with proper frost protection during the winter. In warm climates, basil can turn into a small tree! (Okay, maybe more like a small bush.)
Quick guide to growing basil:
-Basil can grow in a pot at least 6 inches deep or in a raised bed. I’ve even had some luck growing basil in the ground of my pollinator garden.
-Basil grows really well in warm, moist soil. It’s important to monitor the soil moisture and never let it completely dry out so that basil has the resources it needs to handle the heat. Basil grown in a pot will need more frequent watering.
-You can plant basil outside anytime between late March and September to enjoy it while our weather is warmest. It grows quickly from seed. You can also find inexpensive young basil plants at the store.
-Even sun-loving basil appreciates some partial shade on the hottest afternoons.
-Harvest basil frequently to encourage new growth and to remove flower spikes that can affect the flavor.
We’ve got more basil growing tips here.
FIVE – OKRA IS ONE OF THE EASIEST DROUGHT-TOLERANT PLANTS TO GROW IN SUMMER
Okra might just be the Texas superstar of vegetables. It’s actually from Ethiopia, so it loves bright sunshine and a lot of it. Even if the texture or taste of okra pods are not your thing, this is still a really fun and beautiful flowering plant to try out in your garden this summer.
Okra thrives in both warm and hot weather, so we actually have time to plant at least two rounds of okra each year while our temps are 85 degrees or above (lucky us!).
Quick guide to growing okra:
–Okra can grow in the ground or in raised beds since it’s not very particular about soil.
-Okra needs at least eight hours of direct sunlight a day to form fruit. Really, the more sun you can give these plants, the better!
-Direct sow okra seeds in your garden in late spring through late July.
-Okra can handle dry conditions. Once your plants are established, you can give them one deep soak a week.
Head over to our okra guide for more tips.
The best heat-tolerant container plants:
With the exception of okra, all of the plants mentioned above do really well in containers, especially if you look for container-friendly varieties. The plants themselves will grow more compact, but the leaves, blooms, and fruits will all be normal size. Add some cheerful marigolds around the edges for a bright and beautiful edible container you can grow on your patio or front porch.
I hope this plant list helps you get excited about our hot growing season here in Texas. You don’t have to hold out for the fall to grow delicious and super productive plants!
Check out our 7 Tips For Summer Gardening in Central Texas to learn more ways you can keep your garden healthy and thriving throughout the hottest months.
LETTUCE HELP YOU GROW
No matter what growing season it is, Lettuce Grow Something can help you fill your garden with color, beauty, and nutritious things to eat. Our garden consultants are ready to help you build the garden you’ve always wanted.
Ways we can help you with your summer garden…
If you don’t know where to start or feel like you don’t have a green thumb, grow your garden with us through 1:1 Coaching.
If you’re ready to have a beautiful garden and just need the design done for you, book a consultation and we’ll design a custom raised bed garden that’s tailored for your space.
If you just want to walk out your back door and see a beautiful garden, without putting in all the work to make it happen, LGS offers design + installation services.