Summertime in Central Texas is coming, and that means it’s time for Bluebell Ice Cream, trips to float the river, and high electricity bills. Just remember that whenever you feel like cranking up the air conditioning inside your home, chances are that your plants need a bit of protection from high temps too.
No matter how scorching the day may be, you can take some simple steps to prevent your garden from wilting in the heat.
Here are seven tips to help your vegetable garden thrive all summer long.
Summer Gardening Tip One: Water deeply
One of the biggest threats to your plants during our hottest months is lack of water. Plants lose H₂O through their leaves, and soil surfaces dry out quickly, leaving shallow roots thirsty.
You can protect your plants from water loss by watering long and slow, a good practice to start now, before our temps regularly near triple digits. By doing so, you encourage your plants to develop deeper roots, which will help them find nutrients and water during long, hot afternoons.
Watering only a little bit every day or only wetting the top few inches of soil, in contrast, tells your plants to keep their roots short, to better find water near the surface of the soil.
Additionally, soil that’s damp throughout maintains a more consistent temperature and is less likely to dry out, which would put stress on your plants. Your goal should be soil that’s damp to the touch at all times (never soggy and never fully dried out).
Summer Gardening Tip Two: Water in the early morning
Watering in the morning—the earlier, the better—helps your plants prepare for the long hours of bright sun ahead (and keeps you out of the sun). The wee hours of the morn are when the temperatures and wind speed tend to be lowest, meaning you won’t lose as much water to evaporation.
If you were to wait to water until the sun is high overhead, you risk not only wasting water, but also scalding the leaves of your plants when all those little water droplets act like magnifying glasses.
The best way to give water to your plants early in the day is through a drip irrigation system. The lines will apply water directly to the roots, where it’s most needed, and they’ll keep your garden watered deeply. The city of Austin recommends drip irrigation lines, as well, to save on the overall amount of water used.
Plants appreciate the consistent watering schedule that drip irrigation can provide, and you’ll have greater peace of mind knowing that your plants’ thirst is quenched during these hot months.
Summer Gardening Tip Three: Use shade cloths
Your plants can’t move to stay under the cover of shade like you can. If you want to reduce the intensity of bright sunlight and heat beating down on your plants, you’ll have to bring a little shade to them.
Shade cloths are effective tools to protect your plants from too-bright sun and keep the surrounding soil cooler, helping it to better retain moisture. They allow enough airflow and sunlight through to keep your plants happy but without scalding them.
Shade cloths are relatively inexpensive, reusable, and readily available at garden centers or online. To avoid squishing your greens, tent them over wire arches or garden hoops.
We find it best to pull warm season plants like tomatoes from the garden during our hot season, but shade cloths can buy you a bit more time with your fruiting plants before it’s time to say goodbye.
Summer Gardening Tip Four: Grow the right plants
Some plants are just not meant to live long once the temperature rises above 70 degrees. By growing plants that are more tolerant of our Austin climate, you can spare yourself the frustration of wondering why your spinach is bolting or why your tomatoes are wilting. (Check our monthly planting guides to learn what you can grow each month of the summer.)
Central Texas Monthly Planting Guide
Take all the guesswork out of your seasonal planting.
Plants like tomatoes, some peppers, squash, and beans are considered quintessential summer staples, but they 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).
You don’t have to give up growing your favorite things entirely during summer, just pick varieties that are locally sourced or that are known to perform well in our area. If you love salad greens, go for arugula, New Zealand spinach, and mizuna. If you want to look out your kitchen window and see fruits growing in abundance, grow okra or eggplants.
Growing plants that are better adapted to our climate instantly boosts your chances of gardening success
Summer Gardening Tip Five: Plant intensively
Some gardeners cover their summer gardens in mulch, but we’ve found that mulch just gives pests a place to hide and can even potentially burn your plants.
When you pack your raised beds with greens instead of mulch, the density of their foliage shades the soil, which keeps the surface moist and roots cool. Bare soil dries out much faster than soil covered by a canopy of flowers, herbs, and vegetables, so you’ll need to water less the more plants you have.
If you spot an empty patch in your garden, go ahead and plant something else!
Summer Gardening Tip Six: Go easy on younger plants
Our summer temps are hardest on tender young plants with more shallow root systems. If you move a transplant or seedling out to your garden between June and August, make sure to harden it off first. Let it get used to the conditions in its new home in the morning, and then keep it under shade for the hottest hours of the day. Do this for a week or two before you finally plant it.
Look for a spot in your garden where it can receive some shade from your taller, more mature plants in the hottest afternoon hours.
Summer Gardening Tip Seven: Keep your soil healthy
A plant that’s as healthy as possible will better withstand a 104-degree-day than one that’s already stressed. Make sure you have key nutrients in the soil that give your plants what they need and help them recover from heat faster.
When you design a garden with Lettuce Grow Something, we’ll set you up with a soil blend that has proven itself in our Austin climate year after year.
With every change of the season, we recommend adding a layer of high-quality compost and organic fertilizer such as worm castings or mycorrhizae to keep your soil happy and improve your plants’ resilience to heat.
We hope these tips help your garden not just survive but thrive over the long summer months to come. Don’t forget to care for yourself as well as your garden with sunscreen and plenty of water.
Stay cool and keep growing!