Ideas & Inspiration
Tips for Growing Vegetables in Summer
Summer is the most exciting time to be a vegetable and herb gardener, with abundant produce ready to harvest. But in many ways, it can be the most challenging. Once the hard labor like installing beds, amending soil, seed starting and transplanting is done, all you need to do is keep the weeds down and make sure everything’s watered, right? Think again.
As temperatures soar in mid-summer, you can have problems with pests like insects that attack your plants, or deer that demolish them. Sometimes, drought conditions lead to problems of excessive heat and too little water. You'll recognize these problems when you see misshapen or cracked fruit, or defoliated plants.
Learn how to manage late summer problems in your vegetable garden. When nature isn't playing nice, it's time to take matters into your own hands.
Vegetable gardens need at least an inch of water a week to survive the summer, even more if temps are unusually hot. Water early in the morning for best results. If you're under drought restrictions, follow municipal guidelines and learn more about using rain barrels and drip irrigation.
A 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch in your vegetable garden will suppress weeds, cool the soil and hold in moisture. The weeds won't have a chance to compete for water, and the blanket of mulch slows evaporation. Used with a soaker hose and a digital hose timer at the spigot, it can give your vegetables just the right amount of water at just the right time of day.
The best first step in pest management in your garden is prevention. And the best way to do this is to scout your garden on a daily basis to be aware when a problem first appears. Observe your plants and look under leaves where insects lay their eggs.
If you see eggs or bugs, it's not necessarily a bad thing; just 3 percent of bugs are considered bad, with the other 97 percent being beneficial or benign. So odds are, it's a good bug that is helping with pollination or reducing the population of bad bugs.
The next step is to correctly identify the pest so that you can determine its life cycle and the best method for controlling it.
Sometimes, the insect is a bad guy and you'll need to take action. For an aggressive caterpillar like the tomato hornworm, that can defoliate a tomato plant in a day, fill a bucket with soapy water, hand pick the critter (it's okay to wear gardening gloves) and drop it into the soapy water.
Sometimes, nature takes care of the problem for you. Beneficial insects like lady bugs and green lacewings like to dine on young caterpillars. Learn about attracting beneficial insects that will feast on the bad bugs.
As your garden matures, you may have problems with 4-legged pests like deer, squirrels and rabbits. Control these critters with barriers like fencing, garden enclosures and animal repellents. Consider scent-based animal repellents and electronic animal deterrents to protect your garden. Learn more in our article 6 Signs of Nibbling Pests in Your Garden.
Tomatoes are the most popular edible in the garden and they provide their own set of challenges in summer heat. For example, tomato fruit may show pale, leathery patches that pucker when they should be ripening. That's sunscald and can be prevented with a shade cloth.
Soft, brown spots on bottoms of tomatoes (as shown above) indicate blossom end rot, a problem caused by a deficit of calcium and irregular watering. To prevent blossom end rot, add plenty of organic matter and water consistently. If your soil is acidic, add lime to adjust the pH.
Soaring summer temps can bring your previously productive tomato plants to a halt. The problem occurs when daytime temperatures hit 85 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit. These too-warm temperatures mean that tomato flowers will fail to pollinate and then drop.
You can ride out the heat wave, giving plants every opportunity to cool off with fresh mulch, a shade cloth and sufficient irrigation. When the thermometer drops again, production will increase. Next year, look for heat-resistant varieties like Heatmaster, Solar Fire, Summer Set, Florida 91 and Phoenix.
Keep in mind these tips for watering tomato plants:
- Early morning is the best time to water. If you must water during the heat of the day, water only the base of the plant.
- Water once a week consistently to keep produce flowering, tomatoes from cracking and leafy plants from bolting.
- Check how much water your garden is getting by using a rain gauge. Or, stick your finger an inch into the soil. Water if dry.
When you plan your garden well, you will hit your stride mid-summer and can maximize your yield with succession planting. This technique requires planting small amounts of seeds over a period of time to get harvest over a longer period of time. Lettuce, radishes and carrots are often grown this way, with successive crops seeded every week.
In the north, the climate is temperate enough to allow for unbroken succession plantings through summer. Southern gardeners will take a break during the hottest months of July and August, but can over-winter some crops instead. Learn more about transitioning your garden into fall with succession planting.