As the Beatles once sang: “Here comes the sun, the ice is slowly melting…” If you live in the North these days, you’re probably shaking off memories of abundant snow and still counting yourself fortunate to have survived another frosty winter. If you live in the South like I do, you’re probably looking at the already crunchy grass and mentally preparing yourself for the long battles that lie ahead. Down here, the summer heat basically creates a gardening war where constant vigilance is required. That is, unless you want the carnage to become intense. But there are several things that you can do while summer gardening to keep your plants looking as fresh as the day they were purchased.
Summer Gardening – Water Regularly
Although this is a pretty obvious step, many gardeners still sometimes overlook it. If it hasn’t rained in a bit and the plants are drooping or shedding copious amounts of leaves, water everything down good. During heat waves, some container gardens may even have to be watered twice a day. Or, as I can relate from personal experience, it might just be that stupid pineapple sage that you have to see about repeatedly. Be especially sure to get any shallow rooted plants in your yard. In ground trees and shrubs can withstand droughts better because they have longer roots. But they’re not totally impervious to dry periods either. If it stays too dry for too long, you may want to give them a good soaking as well. Just be sure not to over water. If you do, you’re in for another fun problem: root rot.
Protect the Weak
Like any good leader in the movies, you need to protect the weaker members of your motley group. (You know, so you can save the princess and/or destroy the Death Star.) The same principal applies here. If you live in a subtropical zone like I do, the summer sun can be brutal and the spring isn’t exactly a picnic. This is particularly true for species that people living further north have labeled as being suitable for full sun areas. Some of these plants desperately need a bit of shade if you’re growing them in the South. Otherwise, they will just kick the bucket when the heat becomes too intense for them.
Consider Their Origin and Plan Accordingly
A good rule of thumb is to look at where the species originated and plan accordingly. For instance, English lavender might survive our mild winters but it isn’t going to survive a full summer outdoors here – it may not be ideal for summer gardening. Meanwhile, traditional British garden plants like alecost and horseradish might be better off if they’re moved to the shade in the spring. Annual herbs from colder climates like chamomile and chervil can indeed be grown here but only in the very early spring or late fall. If you miss the deadline for planting them, they either have to be grown indoors or won’t last very long. The same can be said of certain early spring vegetables like lettuce and sugar snap peas.
Gardeners should still be aware that there are even some tropical plants that won’t like being put in full sun. Coffee trees, culinary ginger, and turmeric are a few examples. Most of these plants grow under large trees in their native environments. As a result, they tend to do much better in part-shade, part-sun conditions with bright light. Of course, if you’re taking plants that spent the winter inside back to the yard, be sure to leave them in a shady spot for a few weeks before moving them to sunnier climes. Good places to leave them while they adjust are brightly lit carports, sunny back porches, or under leafy oak trees.
Summer Gardening – Select Heat-Resistant Plants
Okay, so maybe a yard full of cacti isn’t the look you’re going for no matter how hot it is. Or maybe you have kids or pets that wouldn’t be too happy about the thorns that go along with them. Or perhaps you’re the sort of person who goes to inspect the odd looking spot on the cactus in the garden center only to end up microscopic thorns in all five fingers. (Yes, that would be me.)
There are still a lot of drought resistant plants you can choose from for your summer gardening. Mediterranean herbs in particular don’t need an overabundance of water. Some examples of these would be bay laurel, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano, and so on. Succulents, like ice plants and aloes, are also good non-thorny choices. They don’t need to be watered every day, no matter how hot it gets. Native or naturalized plants are also good choices because they’ve already adapted to your climate, which takes the work out of things for you.
Of course, you’ll want to keep your cool no matter how high the mercury climbs. If it becomes too intense to go outdoors, just keep hydrated and pray for rain. I intend to do the same. You can always water the plants when the sun goes down. Happy summer gardening!