Gardening In The Heat Of Summer

Within the Arc of Seasons, as taught in the Gardenary method of gardening, July and August are considered the hot season here in the Denver Metro area. The hot season consists of temperatures ranging from 70°F – 90°F. Each season has specific plant families that grow well and others that struggle or are unable to grow in those temperatures. With temperatures in the hot season, many things can struggle, tomatoes will drop their blossoms and not go on to fruit if temperatures are consistently over 86°F. The same goes for beans, while some things like eggplant, hot peppers and okra love the heat. This time of years means utilizing shade cloth, compost and water to help plants make it through the heat. Once you learn the Arc of Seasons or which plant families like to grow in which temperatures, planning your garden will be easier and you will find more success. I can’t tell you how many years I just tried to grow everything through the traditional “gardening season between frost dates. I thought I was a terrible gardener for certain things and great for others. It turned out that I was just growing them int he wrong season. Utilizing the shoulder seasons, really helps you extend what you can grow and gives you more harvests and growing days. A well planned garden, with the right tools/supplies can make a world of difference, whatever the weather.

Shade cloth is a viable way to protect plants from the scorching sun in the heat of the summer. Here in the Denver area they also protect the garden from hailstorms, which can happen at this time of year. There are a variety of shade cloths to choose from. The percentage you pick will be based on how much light you want to reach your plants. With the combination of our high temperatures hovering around the high 90’s to low 100’s during this time of year and our altitude, I use a 50% shade cloth to cover my garden beds. There are various colors to choose from too. I have shade cloth in a light tan color, green and black. The color I have the most of is black. In hindsight I’d prefer the lighter tan due to the heat absorbance of darker colors, but I will continue to use the ones I have until they no longer function and fall apart. In my old garden space I have a “shed” frame that I use to hang the shade cloth on with zip ties. This protects my squash and cucumbers from the sun and possible hail. For the raised bed kitchen garden, I keep my metal hoops up and drape the shade cloth over them. I have to get creative when it comes to having it go around my trellises. The thing to keep in mind when using shade cloth is to think of the sun and where it will be when you hit the hottest part of the day. My shade cloth is 8’x12’ for the raised beds and with the trellises they way they are the east side of my beds get the least amount of shade cloth coverage so the south and west sides are full covered for the hot afternoon sun.

Offering shade can help soil temperatures from rising, but a good layer of compost can not only help with soil temperatures, it adds nutrients to the soil. Adding compost helps the soil retain moisture too. I suggest adding a 2-3 inch layer, a lot of people will add straw as their form of mulch, I have always added compost as my mulch. I am hoping this still works as we have new cats in the neighborhood, I may have to start using straw if it becomes an issue. Another benefit of adding a layer of compost to your garden beds as a mulch is the amount of organic matter being added. This is the life line of soil health. Without good soil health, nothing will thrive, including us. Just as we need to nurture and feed our microbiome, we need to nurture and feed our soil and its microbiome. Organic matter is where its at! With the added nutrients from the compost, plants will get a boost of support they need to be robust. During hot seasons plants are more at risk from pest pressure and disease, so adding nutrients form the compost, you are helping them be less susceptible to pests and disease.

*Watering is critical for any garden, too much and the plants roots can drown, too little and the plant will be stunted and withered. It is hard to suggest water schedules for gardening because each yard and garden area are completely unique with their own microclimate and watering needs. In the same garden area you can have a sunny spot where plants need more water and there could be a shaded spot where moisture sticks around more. I always suggest to give your garden about one inch of water per week. This can be hard to gauge, but in time you can learn what it looks like. I recommend the finger test for checking to see if your garden has enough water or if it needs a good watering. Take your finger and stick it into the soil, if it feels moist, you likely don’t need to water, but if it is on the drier side, it’s time to water. Watering one inch a week is said to moisten the soil 4-5 inches below the surface where the roots are, this is where you want the moisture to be. It may seem like you are watering a lot when using a watering wand, but it may not be the case.(My favorite water wand is a Dramm.) I recommend watering deeply by really soaking the soil, watching it soak in and moving on to another part of the garden, then coming back to water it again. Later in the day or the next day, do the finger test and see. If you are really concerned, dig down 4-5 inches and see if the soil is moist. You will soon learn what your soil looks like and how the plants respond. If you are watering too much, your plants may start turning yellow. If this happens, adjust your watering and see if the plants recover, if they are still yellowing, add a side dressing of compost as they may need a good feeding of nutrients. I always suggest watering in the morning and at soil level. Watering at soil level is ideal to lessen the chance of diseases, fungi, etc. as water on the plants is more likely to cause the spread. Avoid splash back as this can spread soil born diseases too. With all this said, done is better than perfect/ideal. If you happen to miss a morning watering session and you see your plants desperately need watering, then water, no need to wait until the perfect time. Keeping your plants alive matters more! Also get familiar with plants needs, some will want a lot of water, others will want less. Paying attention to how your water is soaked in will also help you see if you have good drainage. In raised beds with isn’t really a big issue, but for in-ground gardens it will be. Most plants do not want their roots sitting in water. There are exceptions, but most don’t. Once you get this part of gardening figured out, you’ll love gardening even more!

Gardening in the summer can be difficult, but utilizing shade cloth, compost/mulch, and a good watering routine can help immensely. Learning which plants and plant families do best in the temperatures you have in the heat of summer will greatly contribute to the success of your garden. Succession sowing always helps too! A friendly reminder, even though it is hot out, you may want to start thinking about your fall garden and getting those plants started inside. (Usually 6-8 weeks before your first frost for any frost tolerant plants you want to grow in the shoulder season or over winter.)

*Container gardens may need watering twice a day in the heat of summer, monitor each container and water as needed. Also with so much watering happening for container gardens, make sure they are getting enough nutrients as a lot of nutrients can run off with the water as it drains.

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