The heat of July and August in Texas can be debilitating and can leave your garden looking barren and lifeless. For some plants the only option you are left with at this point is to give in to the heat and start over again when the temperatures fall back into a reasonable range. If you want to keep a productive garden over an extremely hot summer you will want to choose plants that thrive in heat and humidity. This guide will provide you with some options for maintaining a productive garden in an extremely hot climate such as Texas.
Before we discuss which plants to grow in the heat, we should discuss some overall strategies to promote healthy growth regardless of which plants you choose to grow:
Shade is your best friend when it comes to growing a summer garden in Texas. Just as we like to sit in the shade and sip on a cold beverage, your plants will also appreciate a good amount of shade as well. Even plants that are marketed as "full sun" will do fine with lots of afternoon shade. Try to shoot for at least 6 hours of sun for these plants, especially in the early morning and afternoon. Having an area that gets dappled sunlight all day is another option as well.
If you don't have any natural shade from the trees or structures on your property, you can create shade as well. If your garden area doesn't span several acres you can purchase a shade cloth to protect the most vulnerable plants in your garden during the hottest part of the day. Shade cloth can be purchased in custom sizes and is rated by the percentage of shade it provides. I recommend using a shade cloth rated at 50% shade for most vegetables, herbs, and flowers.
The reality of the situation is that you are no doubt going to have to water your plants often in July and August - sometimes every day. The timing of watering, as well as the method of watering, are both very important to minimize water loss to evaporation. Drip irrigation is highly recommended in garden plots in order to direct the water to the exact spot that you need it without losing a majority of it to evaporation. Watering with a sprinkler or by hand is not recommended if it can be avoided. The one situation when watering by hand is okay is if you are watering pots.
The timing of watering is also very important in order to maximize the uptake of water into your plants. Watering first thing in the morning before it gets too hot is the most efficient time to water. Your plants will be able to uptake as much water as they can before the heat of the day sets in and you won't lose as much water to evaporation. If you can't water first thing in the morning the next best time to water would be in the evening when the sun has made its way down and is no longer blaring hot. Watering during the hottest part of the day should be avoided if at all possible. If this is the only time you have to water then obviously it is a better choice than killing your plants.
Mulch is an extremely important addition to the garden no matter what season it is. Mulch protects the soil, prevents erosion, slows the growth of weeds, and acts as a temperature regulator. In the heat of the summer, mulch cools the soil and locks-in moisture. In winter, mulch warms the soil and protects the roots of your plants. We use a natural wood chip mulch at Ronin Farm, which provides great coverage and will eventually break down and add beneficial structure and fungal growth to the soil. Other options for mulch include: wheat straw, well aged compost, cotton hulls, pecan shells, and clean/weed free hay. Use a thick layer, at least 4 to 5 inches, for the best results.
Vegetables, herbs, and flowers to grow in extremely hot climates
Corey Wahl - director of farm operations at Ronin Farm - Bryan, TX.