Gardening in a Hot Climate

By Steve Asbell, The Rainforest Garden

Hot climates aren't all pina coladas and palm trees for a gardener. Just as the heat is uncomfortable to humans, many plants also have a rough time soldiering through a sweltering summer afternoon. The annuals and veggies that did so well during the cooler months start to fizzle out when the days get hot, and even some perennials start to turn floppy around high noon. In the Southwest that problem is compounded by drought. In the Southeast it's the humidity, heavy summer rains, plentiful pests and warm nights that put the final nail in your plants' coffins.

Though there are big differences between the humid heat of the Southeast and the dry heat of the Southwest, each of these tips will help you wrestle your garden back from a relentless summer.

 

Choose Heat-Tolerant Plants

There are luckily many plants that tolerate and even thrive in the heat. Native plants are always good bets since they've probably been thriving in your area longer than humans have, and plants from the tropics are also very well suited to hot areas.

Great edibles for hot summers include tropical vegetables like okra, hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes and eggplant. If you'd like to have fresh summertime herbs, grow Mexican tarragon, basil, oregano and rosemary. Good freeze- and heat-tolerant fruits to grow are pineapple, guava, figs, pomegranate and cold-hardy citrus like kumquats and mandarins. If your garden doesn't receive frost very often, pretty much any fruit tree from the subtropics and tropics is fair game.

Give Afternoon Shade

If you're attempting to grow plants that tend to poop out in heat, sometimes all they need is a little extra shade in the afternoon. You can grow warm-season vegetables like summer squash and tomatoes in the shade of taller hot-weather vegetables like okra, and herbs also do well in the shadows of taller plants in summer.

Conserve Moisture

Even in the rainy Southeast, the harsh summer sun can quickly evaporate the water from your topsoil. To prevent this, use a layer of mulch or plant a groundcover to shade the soil and prevent evaporation. Water in the mornings so plants have a chance to soak up the moisture before the sun takes it back. Use soaker hoses and drip irrigation to direct water where it's needed without wasting a drop.

Be Safe

Keeping yourself cool and hydrated should be your priority. After all, who will water the plants if you suffer a heat stroke? Complete your gardening tasks either first thing in the morning or as the sun begins to set in the evening. Diehard hot-climate gardeners will even use a headlamp to pull weeds in the night! Drink plenty of water and take breaks. If you start to feel dizzy, just go inside and get some rest.