I have been harvesting so many tomatoes, beans, peppers, and squash that I have lost count. Even though many of my plants are nearing the end of their productive cycle, I am still expecting to continue harvesting many more before these plants succumb to the summer’s heat. Now, as these plants start to fade you are probably wondering what you need to do next! Well, if you are like me then you should either be planning your next crop of vegetables or planting them. Sweet potatoes, Southern Peas, Okra, and Cherry Tomatoes are just a few of the plants you should be considering planting now. This week I would like to go over a few things you need to keep in mind while preparing your summer gardens. Let’s get started!
Gardening in the summer is a little different than gardening in the spring or in the fall. In the spring and fall we look to capture as much of the afternoon sun as possible to help push our plants to grow fast. During the summertime, we need to reduce the afternoon heat by planting in areas that get predominantly morning to midday sun and afternoon shade. If you have an area on another side of the home where you get less direct afternoon light, then you can keep your current garden growing where it is now and start a summer garden. If you are a container grower the solution is simple, just move the containers to a cooler area to prolong your harvest. Either way you will need to start thinking about protecting your vegetables from the heat of the summer.
If you do not have the room to start a new summer garden and the plants you are currently growing are at the end of their productive cycle, then there are other options available for you. These options may take a little work but you can convert your existing garden into a summer garden by picking up some shade cloth from your local garden center and block out the late afternoon sun to protect your new plants from the summer heat.
The first thing you need to do is to block out the sun from shining directly on your garden from about Two to Three O’clock in the afternoon until evening. You will need to purchase a couple of wooden two by two stakes, a small roll of shade fabric, and some wire ties or staples. Pound the wooden stakes into the ground, stretch the shade cloth between the poles, and use the wire ties or staples to secure the shade cloth to the poles. Make sure you are only shading your plants from the afternoon sum. You may have to make several adjustments until you get it right but this is easy. By limiting summer’s direct heat in the afternoon, your plants will still be able to grow strong and healthy and not be burned up by the sun. This will also help to conserve water around your plants. If your current garden is not getting any morning sun then you may have to let a little more sun in and adjust your shade cloth accordingly.
Water is essential to the garden in the summertime as our high temperatures tend to dry out our vegetables roots very quickly. When our plants start to dry out they begin to wilt which starts a process within the plants to conserve water. This process can include aborting developing fruit, dropping leaves to conserve water, and of course, the death of the plant. This is another reason why many people never consider planting in the summer as they just can not seem to keep their plants hydrated enough to keep up with the heat. A little shade cloth can make a big difference by reducing the amount of evaporation around your plants resulting in more vegetables for the table.
Pest pressure is another problem you need to be aware of during the summer months. As our temperatures rise, pest pressures in our gardens increase. Whiteflies, aphids, beetles, and caterpillars all seem to know that our gardens have been planted and they are intent on getting their fair share. This means you must be even more vigilant in monitoring your garden for these pests and taking control measures once they are spotted. This may include the physical removal of the pests by hand or possibly pruning out the infested plants. You may also need to use insecticides to keep your plants from succumbing to these pests.
Sticky yellow pest strips can help you control whiteflies and some beetle populations. Caterpillars can be controlled by hand or if you have a heavy infestation, you may need to use products like Thuricide or Dipel. These products are all natural and will only kill the caterpillars leaving the beneficial insects unharmed. The problem with Thuricide and Dipel are the fact that they are easily washed off the plant through irrigation or a rainstorm and need to be re-applied often. Remember to always mix fresh product each time you re-apply as mixed products lose their effectiveness once mixed with water. Only mix enough products to do the job and use all of the mixture. Natural products such as Neem oil and Safer soap can help you manage aphids on your vegetables. If the problem becomes severe, try Sevin Dust. Sevin Dust is a Dry insecticide that you can sprinkle over your plants and kill unwanted pests. This product also comes in a liquid formulation. Because this product is not a systemic insecticide, you can use it on your vegetables but always wash them before eating.
As the humidity increases during the summer, so does the instance of diseases in our vegetable crops. Powdery mildews, Blights, and Leaf spots are just a few of the diseases our summertime vegetable gardens are prone to exhibit. Fortunately, these diseases are easy to spot and can be controlled through monitoring and the application of fungicides. Green Cure Fungicide is an all natural organic product which will control dozens of fungal pathogens. Dithane M45 and Daconil are two more fungicides that are readily available at your local garden center.
Now that you are ready to plant your crop you should start looking for starter plants to fill your garden. Most nurseries have a wide selection of plants which do well in the summer but be sure to read the information slip on the vegetable carton for proper planting instructions. Stay away from the large tomatoes this time of year as they do not do very well in the summer heat. Try the cherry tomatoes and get a variety of cultivars and give them plenty of room to grow. Cherry tomatoes tend to grow tall and produce hundreds of small tasty fruits so be prepared to stake them as they grow.
Okra is another summer favorite. You can plant okra directly into the ground and watch them grow. Harvest fruits when they are about six inches long. Peanuts are another good plant you can grow and they are care free. Just pick up some raw green peanuts from your local grocery store and sow them into the ground. Peanuts will grow with very little care and come December just dig them up and harvest your bounty. If you have never grown them before, then this is your opportunity to try something different!
Sweet potatoes and Southern peas are two more crops you should also consider. Plant your sweet potato slips (which you can grow yourself), directly into a nice mound of compost. Slips will root in about two weeks. Give them plenty of room to grow as they do tend to run. In about three months check your sweet potatoes by digging gently around the base of the plant and check them for size. If they are over five inches long you can start to harvest them. If they are not big enough, then give them another month to grow a little more. Be sure to completely cover exposed sweet potatoes as they tend to get sunburned if exposed to the sun. Southern peas are easy to grow. Again, read the information label on the plants you purchase and pick plump pods before the seeds inside harden. Just check a few pods every few days and you will get the hang of it.
Gardening in the summer can be challenging because of the pests and diseases that can affect our plants. Please do not let this discourage you from enjoying your garden. Make sure you inspect your garden for pests and diseases every few days during the growing season and if necessary treat accordingly. I hope your will enjoy gardening this summer and try to grow something you have not grown before. Growing new things adds excitement to the garden and keeps you interested in gardening. As always, remember, without plants we would not be here.