Surviving the Sizzle: A Mid-Summer Guide to Caring for Your Garden During Heat Waves

By Dave Whitinger - July 20th, 2023

Here in North Texas we've been seeing over 100 degree days for weeks on end, so it seems timely to share some of our tips on gardening in summer.

When a summer heat wave hits, your garden can go from fine to flop overnight. Plants stressed by extreme heat can wilt, scorch, or stop setting fruit. Don't despair! With some strategic care, you can help your vegetables, herbs, and flowers persevere through hot summer weather.

Watering Wisely

Plants need more frequent watering during heat waves, but take care not to overdo it. Prioritize watering early in the morning so the water has time to soak into the soil before the day's heat causes excessive evaporation. Focus on deeply watering the roots rather than misting the leaves. We use drip hoses everywhere, set on timers because we always forget to turn it off. Adding 2-3 inches of mulch will help the soil retain moisture longer. If plants are severely wilting in the afternoon, a light watering can help them recover but don’t soak the foliage.

Does water on foliage harm plants? Some say it does, others refute the claim as a false myth. I don't think water droplets harm plants, but that water is doing no good sitting on the leaves. Just water the soil and don't waste efforts with overhead watering.

Providing Protective Shade

Strategically placed structures like trellises, pergolas, shade cloths and even umbrellas can provide cooling afternoon shade for vulnerable plants. Row covers and shade cloth over garden beds also moderate exposure to sun and heat. For container gardens, consider moving pots to shadier spots or constructing temporary shade structures.

For us, 40% shade cloths are our preferred summer shade. It provides plenty of cooling but still permits quite a bit of light to come through.

Choosing Heat Hardy Varieties

Heat-loving vegetables like peppers and eggplants will continue producing through summer. There are good varieties of tomatoes that handle the heat, such as Porter, Porter's Pride, and Dwarf Johnson's Cherry. Okra, cucumbers and melons are also heat-adapted. We are currently working on a page for our website where you can enter your zipcode and see what the best recommended varieties are for your specific area. Stay tuned for that!

Giving Plants a Summer Haircut

If plants like basil are getting stretched and leggy, give them a trim! Pruning back excessive growth in summer encourages the plant to generate new leaves and branches that are better adapted to the heat. The plant will look much happier and get a growth boost. This time of year we often severely trim back our tomatoes to encourage all new growth.

Replenishing for a Fall Harvest

Cool weather crops like lettuces, spinach and kale will often stall or bolt as temperatures rise. Replant them in late summer for a bountiful fall harvest. Quick-growing vegetables like summer squash, cucumbers and beans can also be replanted in August for a second round of summer produce.

Down here in Texas, I love growing southern peas in the dead of summer. Even when I don't fully harvest the pods, they still make a superb summer cover crop.

Staying Patient

Plant growth may slow to a crawl during the peak of summer heat waves. But as long as you tend to their water needs, provide shade, and trim back stressed foliage, most plants will bounce back once temperatures cool off again. Your garden will be ready for a vigorous rebound in fall.

Let us know if you have any other questions - we’re always happy to share gardening tips and advice! We welcome questions to