Most of the time when we think about having to protect plants, particularly the ones in our vegetable garden, we are worried about them freezing or suffering frost damage. However, in some places, the summer heat can be a bear and pose a threat all its own.

Even though most vegetable plants love lots of sunlight, and without a doubt a lot thrive in the summer, hot, dry weather can be a problem. The ground can dry out and stunt root growth. Some veggies will drop blossoms, i.e. refuse to fruit, when the weather is too hot. Other plants—the leafy stuff—will simply bolt, flowering, seeding, and departing if it gets too hot too fast.

Plus, by late summer, often the most scorching time of year, we need to be putting the fall garden in. Most of those plants like cool weather. Their seeds won’t even germinate in soil temperatures that reach the 80s and 90s.

So, yes, sometimes we have to keep our plants cool. How do we do it?


Mulch is the great mitigator of the garden. It keeps soil temperatures from shifting too quickly in either direction, protecting in freezes and in heatwaves. Mulch acts kind of like a blanket and a shield. With mulch, the sun can reach the plant for all that photosynthesis stuff, but it doesn’t dry out and harden the soil while doing it.


And, that’s where mulch is another great ally in the effort not to overheat. Mulch protects the soil from direct sun, so the soil stays nice and moist. When plants need a drink, which they will more often when it’s hot, they’ll have access. A well-mulched bed, 2-4 inches deep, will keep the soil moist for over a week with no rain or watering whatsoever.


If there is an obvious problem with plants getting too hot, installing some temporary shading devices can help. This can be as easy as putting up a few tall posts and draping a shade cloth or old bedsheets over the garden beds. It could be standing up some old window screens on the southern side of the plants to thwart the sun a little.


When it’s hot out, nobody wants to be rubbing shoulders with strangers in a crowd, and plants are the same way. Weeding out the beds will help to eliminate competition for moisture. Weeds can stifle the garden, blocking breezes from cooling the vegetable plants and stealing water meant for producing crops. Pull those weeds up, roots and all, then stick them in a compost bin or put them atop the mulch.


While weeding, it’s worth taking a moment to prune back the vegetable plants where they need it as well. Getting rid of excess, diseased, or dying leaves, as well as harvesting ripe crops, means that the plants have less to support. Instead, the plant can focus its energy on production rather than support unnecessary parts.


If rain is hard to come by, the plants appreciate a shower, and the best time to do this is early morning, while the temperature is low and the sun absent. It’s best to water them nice and deep during these times. Access to cool water will help keep the plants from drying out.  If all of the other methods are in action, this probably won’t be necessary.


As for planting the fall garden crops, it can be a shrewd move to use the existing plants—the tower beans, tomatoes, and okra—as cover. Plant the fall crop in their shadows, where the ground stays a bit cooler and the young cold-weather plants won’t get burnt as they sprout to life. Soon, it’ll be time to get rid of those summer plants, and they can be used as mulch—mitigating the freezing temperatures—for the young autumn crops.

With some forethought and ingenuity on the gardener’s part, it’s easy to help beloved plants beat the summer heat, and they’ll repay us dearly with delicious produce for months to come.

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