Warm-season veggies need higher temperatures with some nighttime cooling and warm soil to thrive and produce. It’s the fruit, not the leaves or roots that we eat from most warm-season veggies. Interestingly, “winter” squashes (hubbard, banana and acorn) are really warm-season veggies. They got the “winter” appellation from the fact that they can be stored and eaten during the winter.
NOTE: You should never plant warm-season veggies until after the last frost date in the spring, unless you give them some protection from the cold. Warm-season veggies are easily killed by winter frosts.
Some warm-season veggie information:
- High Temperatures: Even though they love warmer temps, if it gets over 90⁰F during the day or over 70⁰F at night, their blossoms can fall off or they may not pollinate.
- Low Temperatures: As mentioned above: no frost! Wait until nighttime temps are consistently above 50⁰F.
- Harvesting: Keep harvesting as the fruits are ready in order to keep the plants producing.
- Fertilizer: Stick to organic, well-balanced fertilizers or compost. Don’t overfeed with nitrogen. A well balanced organic fertilizer is a safe choice.
- Insects: Many veggies need to be pollinated by our insect friends. Don’t use insecticides, organic or otherwise, unless they won’t harm the good bugs. Keep the bad bugs away by tending to your garden. Don’t let it get overgrown and pick up fallen fruit!
- Sunlight: Warm-season veggies grow best in full sunlight.
A List of Warm-Season Vegetables
This veggie needs nutrient-rich soil and compost to support its rapid growth. Water them well during “tasseling” (blooming). You should harvest corn as soon as the kernels are milky and full for the best freshness and cook as soon after harvesting as possible.
These include lima and fava beans, as well as everyone’s favorite: green beans. Some types, called “pole” beans grow on trellises, which saves space in the garden. All beans are heavy producers with long growing seasons. “Bush” beans (those that don’t need trellises) typically produce earlier and for a limited time. Water your beans well, especially when they’re blooming.
This veg needs a lot of water and nutrient-rich soil. Compost or fertilize often. Seedlings will grow in cooler temps, but seeds require high (85⁰F) temps to germinate. You can either harvest several smaller eggplants by letting nature take its course or pinch off some of the blossoms, causing the plant to produce bigger fruits.
There are many varieties from which to choose: Crenshaw, honeydew, cantaloupe and casaba to name a few. Water consistently and in just the right amount (drip irrigation is ideal). You should plant several melon plants as they need to be cross-pollinated (pollination between different plants).
Another vining favorite, the cucumber loves trellises, but can be more self-supporting if smaller types are planted. They need regular watering due to being shallow-rooted plants; this is especially true when the fruits start developing. Mulching your cukes will help hold in moisture as well as provided a source of much-needed decomposing organic matter. You can harvest cukes at any size, but don’t wait until they turn yellow. They’re bitter at that point.
Pumpkins and Winter Squash
More vining veggies! These spread up to five feet from the place they were planted. Harvest these beauties after the first frost when their shells are hard. At that point, you can store them over the winter. These veggies like good compost or even well-rotted manure. Once they’re in full growing mode, they’ll likely keep weeds to a minimum due to the shade they cast. They do need good air circulation to prevent mildew.
This is one of the most popular warm-season veggies. There are far too many varieties (literally hundreds!) to list. Each has its own plant type, fruit type and harvest time. When planting tomato seedlings, plant them deep in nutrient-rich soil; going so far as to cover one or more sets of leaf nodes. The plants’ stems put out more roots, making the plants healthier and sturdier, though you may still need to tie or stake the plants to keep them from falling over. A tomato cage offers great support. Water them deeply and let the soil dry out a bit before the next watering.
There are many varieties of peppers, too, from sweet to so-hot-you’ll-wonder-how-humans-can-eat-them. You can harvest bell peppers when they’re green, but they’ll get sweeter if you wait until they’re riper at a yellow or red color. Peppers need good soil drainage, magnesium supplementation and even benefit from a tablespoon of Epsom salts dissolved in two quarts of water. Speaking of water, peppers must be kept evenly watered.
This delicious relative of the morning glory flower is also a popular and beautiful ornamental plant. They need to be planted in a mound of soil around 8 – 10 inches high to ensure proper soil warming and drainage. They typically need a 3 – 4 month frost-free growing season and so benefit from being planted as early in the spring as possible. Plant little sprouts, called “slips,” that are grown from pieces of the sweet potato itself. Here’s a good article on re-growing from scraps. This is a vining veggie that takes up a lot of ground space, though you can plant more compact varieties.
Summer Squash and Zucchini
The best thing to note about these favorite warm-season veggies is that you don’t need to plant too many of them to have an abundant crop of delicious veggies. Varieties include : elongated (zucchini), scalloped, crooked- and straight-neck. If you’re in an area with a long summer, you can actually do two plantings: a spring and a midsummer planting. Harvest these beauties when they’re small and tender; the blossoms can be eaten, too! Don’t wet the leaves when watering these plants.
Here are some other warm-season veggies:
- Celery (cold climates)
- Herbs (annual)
Pick (no pun intended!) your favorites and get ready for spring planting! Enjoy the deliciousness to come, as well as the fun journey of tending your warm-season veggie garden!