Summer Gardening FAQs

Throughout most of the country, summer is prime gardening time with warm temperatures and long daylight hours. Here in Central Texas, however, many people consider it the dormant season. With little rainfall and scorching temperatures, it is just too difficult for many plants to thrive. So, like Northerners who “put their gardens to sleep” in winter, we sometimes do the same here in the summer. We either cover them with a thick layer of mulch, using leaves of straw, or we plant them with cover crops. Ideally, we choose legumes like black-eyed peas or purple hull peas because they add nitrogen to the soil and do not require heavy watering.

If you choose to garden through the summer, there are many ways to keep your plants and yourself healthy and happy. Here are some of our answers to frequently asked questions about summertime food growing:

How can I keep my plants from wilting or dying in the late afternoon sun?

Give your garden late afternoon and evening shade by placing a trellis on the southwestern or western part of your garden and growing a heat-tolerant vining plant up the trellis. Such plants include cucumber, green beans and hyacinth beans. You can also grow sunflowers or corn on the west side of the garden. These plants grow as tall as six feet and can give shade to trailing plants like squash and melons. Last but not least, you can hang a shade cloth made out of bed sheets on the western side of your garden, or you can plant tall, sun-loving plants in front of short, shade-loving plants.

How can I control fire ants in my garden?

Fire ants are a very common, warm weather garden pest and can harm plants as well as humans and animals with their sting. There are many chemical-free recipes for fire ant control that you can find online. If you have access to a stove or electric tea kettle, we recommend carefully pouring three gallons of boiling water on each mound. You can also find organic fire ant control at nurseries, which usually contains citrus oil to kill the pesky insects.

What are the best plants for summer gardening?

Heat-loving plants that have adapted to our climate will be the most successful. Many varieties of squash grow well here. Prolific, heat-loving tomatoes are a staple in most summer gardens for good reason. If your tomato plant stops producing fruit in July or August, you can cut it back severely, give it a layer of compost or mulch, and it should start putting out more fruit in September. Eggplant and okra are great options as well and can provide abundant fruit in mid and late summer.

How can I conserve water while still gardening in the summer?

We recommend installing rain barrels to harvest rain water off your roof. You can start small, with just a few barrels and add more later on if you find that you need more rain water. If you hand water, make sure to do so in the morning when temperatures are cooler. This will minimize water evaporation. Installing drip lines through the vegetable beds allows water to be introduced directly onto the plant roots where it’s needed, also minimizing evaporation.