Summer Gardening Tips and Great Summer Cover Crops

Summer gardening is hot right now. Midsummer can be a challenging time in areas with scorching summers and blistering sun. Cool season crops bolt, weeds seem to thrive, and watering can feel like it’s never-ending. Read on for a few summer gardening tips.

The Benefits of Raised Beds for Plant Growth and Soil Ecosystem

Ways to Beat the Heat Summer Gardening

It’s not only some of our plants looking a bit droopy under the intense summer sun. We gardeners can suffer too, whether from a lack of energy or a shortage of ideas on what to do. 

Work in the morning or evening 

Take advantage of those cooler periods and tend to the garden when the heat is more bearable. Weeding needs should be less intense now, and harvesting can be done without subjecting yourself to the midday heat. Vegetables harvested in the early morning taste better, too. 

Water in the wee hours 

Watering plants in garden

Watering in the morning instead of during the day or evening ensures moisture is available when your plants need it. Morning watering also conserves water by letting it seep into the soil before it can evaporate. If you utilize an irrigation system, whether drip line or overhead, put it on a timer. A half-hour before sunrise, when the world is just waking up, is the perfect time to let the timer take care of watering chores for you. 

Use shade cloth

Summer heat can mean some of our favorite crops get too much sun. Try using shade cloth to give them a break and add a little time to your cooler season crops like lettuce and spinach. Available in many thicknesses, shade cloth can let some light through but still offer protection. Keep the sides open to prevent heat buildup. 

What to Plant in Summer

Many traditional crops are fading out by July, and it’s too early (hot) to get the fall garden going, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to plant. Here are a few ideas for planting vegetables in Zone 8, but you can adjust these by a few weeks either way to fit your location. 

Vegetables to plant in summer 

Direct seed, heat-loving, long-season crops. Summer squashes, melons, sweet corn, pumpkins, and beans don’t mind a little heat. Direct seed these crops in late July for a 100-day fall growing window. You can also still plant tomatoes, okra, and others that relish the warmth.

Fall crops of many staples like brassicas and greens can be started indoors for later transplanting. Sowing these seeds indoors to transplant out under shade cloth in late summer is an easy way to extend your fall gardening window.  

Summer cover crops

Those doldrums of summer, when you’d rather be on the porch with a cool drink, can be an excellent time for a cover crop in the garden. If you’d rather not be out working in the heat, a summer cover crop can benefit your soil microbial life, minimize erosion, smother weeds, and provide soil organic matter. 

Buckwheat is one of the easiest cover crops for home gardeners. Its advantages include rapid growth, readily available seed, and easy termination. Buckwheat can be terminated as early as 8-10 weeks, about a week after flowering, which allows time for a fall vegetable crop. (Termination, in the gardening context, means allowing the crop to die – whether on purpose or naturally)

Cowpeas can be an easy late summer and fall cover crop for the home gardener in the South. They are drought-resistant once established and can fix nitrogen in the soil. Choose a vining type and cut them before blooming to prevent volunteers the following year.

Sweet potatoes are another great ground cover, providing protection for the soil and a tasty fall harvest. Get them in the ground at least 100 days before your first frost. Many vendors only sell slips in springtime, so if you plan a summer-planted sweet potato cover crop, you may need to learn how to make sweet potato slips yourself. (A “slip” is a sprout with roots from a fully grown sweet potato)

Summer Gardening FAQs

What can I plant in July?

July is the perfect time to start some seeds indoors for later planting. Take advantage of the air conditioning to stay inside and start fall crops of brassicas like kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and collards. 

July is also a great time to direct seed some warm-weather crops to take advantage of the rest of the growing season. Melons, sweet corn, squashes, pumpkins, beans, cowpeas, cukes, and more can all be direct seeded in late July for a fall crop. 

Summer squash, melon, and greens harvested from the garden

How do I know when to plant my fall garden crops?

The days to maturity on the seed packet is your starting point. Count back from your typical first autumn frost. Add a couple weeks to allow time for harvesting. For frost-tolerant crops, use the date when you start getting nights below 25℉ and work backward from then.

How often should I water my garden in the heat of summer? 

Hot sunny days can dry the soil faster and cause the plants to use more water. If the weather has been warm and dry, stick your finger into the soil underneath your plants. If it feels dry below the surface about mid-finger deep, it’s time to water. Watering deeply once or twice a week is better for them than daily shallow drinks.

About the Author:

Master Gardener Andy Wilcox

Andy Wilcox is a freelance writer and flower farmer who is passionate about gardening, horticulture, and forestry, and believes healthy soil leads to healthy people. He is a Master Gardener and a member of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Wisconsin. He can be reached via email:

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