By Emily Murphy
Nothing says “summer” quite like a flourishing garden full of blossoming plants ready for harvest. Learn more about which plants do best in the heat of summer and get some tips and tricks on how to ensure your garden is bountiful. You will also find out what to plant with each of your summer favorites to encourage growth and resist disease.
Cucumbers are prolific producers and perfect for eating straight off the vine, tossing in salads or pickling. Look to traditional, burpless or varieties that are hard to find at the store. Persian cucumbers, lemon cucumbers and cucamelons are all wonderful. Cucamelons, which are actually a gherkin, are not true cucumbers but are grown as such. Both are hardy and adorable and pack extra crunch thanks to their tiny size. Cucumbers can be trained to climb an a-frame trellis, while cucamelons will even climb an arbor. Plant in rich soil in full sun in the spring and water regularly for summer-long harvests. Corn is one of the ultimate companion plants for cucumbers, and beans and peas are also good to encourage your cucumbers to do well.
What would a summer garden be without tomatoes? The two go hand-in-hand. Grow salad tomatoes like ‘Sun Gold’ and ‘Sweet 100’s’ for picking and eating. Beef steak tomatoes are perfect for slicing. While tomatoes like Romas and heirloom ‘Black Vernissage’ are best for roasting, sauces and soups. Tomatoes generally need a long growing season with plenty of heat and full sun, at least 6 to 8 hours a day. Some patio and bush tomatoes have shorter growing seasons. As a rule of thumb, it is best to plant tomatoes as soon as the weather warms in spring to ensure a bumper crop by August. Tomatoes thrive when planted with marigolds, basil and chives, among other companion plants.
Peppers can be grown side-by-side with tomatoes as well as eggplants because they have similar growing requirements. They all prefer full sun, rich soil and consistent deep watering. To help keep your peppers well-watered, use a bubbler or a Thumb Control Watering Nozzle. Make sure to water near soil level whenever possible to prevent soil borne diseases from splashing on lower leaves. Grow patio varieties, sweet or hot peppers to add to pizzas and salsas or for roasting. In addition to the tomato and eggplant companion plants, peppers can be planted close to carrots, radishes, squash and members of the Allium family (like onions and garlic).
There are a plethora of squash varieties. Delicata, Crookneck, Cousa, Pattypans, Summer squash and Zucchini are all wonderful options to start with. Try growing Cinderella pumpkins for both eating and carving. For a twist on the traditional squash dishes, try the crowd-pleasing breaded and fried flowers. They’re delicious! Squash, like tomatoes, have a long growing season. Plant them in well-drained soil early from seeds or starts. Be sure to give them plenty of sun and consistent deep watering using an elevated garden sprinkler or spray nozzle like the Thumb Control Watering Nozzle. Harvesting regularly will encourage continued flowers and fruit. Squash grows well with cucumbers, corn and beans, among a number of other plants.
Sorrels, like this French red veined variety known as ‘Raspberry Dressing’, are cold-hardy perennials offering greens throughout the hottest days of summer. They are gorgeous while growing and have a refreshing, tangy flavor that is perfect in salads and soups. Give them a spot in the garden or in a container where they can come back year after year. Place plantings strategically to better enjoy their striking foliage. Sorrels have multiple companion plants it benefits from being planted in close proximity to including strawberries, tomatoes and cabbage.
Pole beans, runner beans and bush beans are equally delightful because once they begin producing fruit, there are always a few beans (or a colander full) to pick nearly every day. Grow wax beans, purple podded beans like ‘Royal Burgundy’ and Borlotti beans for their fun red and white calico color. Consider rotating planting locations in the garden so you can reap the benefits of their nitrogen fixing abilities in soil. Thanks to the symbiotic relationship with rhizobium bacteria, beans replenish soil with nitrogen as they grow. And just like cucumbers, they can grow up instead of out, so space generally isn’t an issue. Plant from seed directly sowed in the garden or transplant from starts once soil temperature has warmed to at last 60 degrees. Most gardeners don’t start seeds indoors as bean plants are very sensitive to transplant shock. Plant in full sun in fertile soil. Beans benefit from being planted with broccoli, carrots and peas, among numerous other companion plants.
Heat tolerant greens, like ‘Miz America’ Mizuna, make summer salads easy. To keep a plentiful harvest all summer long, sow new plants successionally every 3 to 5 weeks, depending on how much garden space you have. Pair Mizuna with brighter greens like chard or sorrels to contrast colors for beautiful container arrangements. Water regularly and remember to give a little extra water on the hottest summer days. Mizuna likes to be planted with beans and beetroot.
Sweet potatoes differ from regular potatoes in that they like warm weather and soil. These tropical plants are cold-sensitive and do best when planted about a month after the last frost date. As long as both the days and the soil are warm, sweet potatoes are easy to grow and will quickly mature to an abundance of pretty vines that spread as wide as you let them. Plant in well-drained soil with compost mixed in. Sweet potatoes grow well near dill, tyme and parsnips. Do not plant them near squash as both vines spread and can cause overcrowding.
Southern peas like black eyed and crowder peas absolutely will not tolerate frost, so be sure to plant this warm-weather crop at least 4 weeks after the last frost. Sow directly in the garden, or start them indoors about 6 weeks prior to being transplanted. Plant in full sun or partial shade in well-drained, sandy, loamy soil. Southern peas, like other pea varieties, are great to help improve soil. Keep soil moist and do not let it dry out. Watering at the base of plants, as opposed to over-head, will protect delicate blooms and small pods from falling off. Planting black eyed peas with certain plants like onions or garlic is not a good idea as they can stunt each other’s growth when grown together. However, they will do well with strawberries and cucumbers.
Okra is a hot-weather-loving plant. Sow directly in the garden several weeks after the last frost has passed. If transplanting from seeds that were started indoors, be extremely gentle with seedlings, as they have very delicate roots. Plant in full sun in rich soil and be sure to harvest regularly. Pick okra pods when they have grown 3 to 4 inches. Do not let pods over-mature or the plant will cease producing. When looking for companion plants for okra, consider melons, cucumbers and eggplant.
Manoa lettuce is the perfect summer greens. Unlike most lettuce varieties, Manoa lettuce is known for its heat tolerance and love of a tropical climate. It is small in size and can be used in place of any other type of lettuce. Wildly popular in Hawaii, where it’s cultivated, it has a uniform, tight shape and is sort of a “mini” lettuce. Plant Manoa lettuce in fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny spot and keep soil moist. Manoa lettuce can be planted with corn and cucumbers.
Eggplant is a warm weather crop that is harvested in mid- to late-summer. Eggplants thrive in high temperatures much like peppers or tomatoes do. It needs well-drained soil and shouldn’t be planted until at least 3 weeks after the last frost. Even though they love the heat, eggplant roots need to be moist and cool throughout the growing season, so be sure to add mulch on the ground to help the root systems retain as much moisture as possible. Eggplant does well when companion planted with amaranth, beans, peppers and spinach or thyme.
Amaranth is a true summer crop that needs warm soil and an abundance of sunlight to do well. Related to beets, quinoa and Swiss chard, amaranth can be harvested for either its grain or its nutritious leaves. Amaranth will easily adapt to most soil types, but it really thrives in well-drained, fertile soil. Keep soil moist and harvest as soon as you see birds interested in and pecking at the plants. Plant amaranth with eggplant, or plant with corn to shade the soil and help to retain water.
Malabar spinach is unique in that it is not a true spinach, but rather a tropical vining variety that does well in warm, well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. It will not survive any sort of frost. Malabar spinach grows well on a trellis, fence or tower and is extremely easy to train. Harvest as needed to use in the kitchen. Malabar spinach has the taste and texture of a cross between chard and regular spinach. It can be planted with beans and Egyptian spinach.
Corn is a bit tricky to grow in comparison to some other summer vegetables, but with the right knowledge and a little attention to the details of when and where to plant it, it can be a rewarding, delicious crop all season long. Corn needs both a lot of space as well as proper pollination to yield a successful crop. Plant in short rows about 1 foot apart for the best chance of pollination. Water regularly, as corn is a shallow-rooted plant and will not tolerate dried out soil. Grow corn with squash and beans for what is commonly referred to as planting of the “three sisters.”
Shallots are easy to grow and can be planted in sets. Separate the bulbs in the set and plant them in the late fall for early summer, or early spring for a late summer harvest. Plant in full sun in loose, fertile, nutrient-rich soil that drains well. Harvest shallots once the tops start to fail and the bulbs have divided into multiple bulblets. Companion plants that enhance shallot growth include cabbage, beets and tomatoes.
Melons provide an abundant crop throughout the summer. Cantaloupes are one of the more popular varieties as they are easy to grow and ripen incredibly fast. Melons will do best when planted in sandy loam soil that is well-drained. They should be planted in full sun and the soil should be kept moist in between waterings. As they are very sensitive to drought, a lot of water is needed until they begin to bear fruit. There are many different companion plants that will protect melons, including sunflowers and marigolds.
Berries are not a vegetable, but they are easy to grow and wonderful to add to salads or to munch on for a sweet summer snack or dessert. There are a host of new varieties designed to thrive in containers, making berries easy to care for and perfect for potted gardens. Look for varieties like ‘Raspberry Shortcake,’ and ‘Blackberry Baby Cakes’ for patio plantings. Plant in full sun in well-drained, mildly acidic to neutral pH soil. There are some great companion plants for berries, but not all varieties do well with the same companion plants. Strawberries, for instance, do well with lettuce, spinach and thyme, whereas raspberries will benefit from being planted with garlic, onion and oats.
Having a fruitful summer garden can be as rewarding as it is tasty. Knowing what to plant when, where and next to what is all you need to learn to have a flourishing garden to enjoy all summer long.
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