A Very Hot Summer in the Garden: Little Things We Learned


How to Avoid the Same Troubles Next Season

Sometimes things just go wrong, right? It’s been a challenging summer for many gardeners thanks to record-breaking heat. But when things don’t work out (which happens to us, too!), we learn little lessons along the way. So that we don’t make the same mistakes next time, here are some quick fixes to make us all better gardeners.

A hot summer can be a good thing; tomatoes and other heat-seekers love it. But it also raised some problems, especially if you’re not around to water as often as you’d like. Who knew that high temperatures could also entice pests large and small?

4 Struggling Crops

Here are four examples of crops that are particularly affected by too much heat and drought—with solutions on what to do.

1. Zucchini and Squash

Powdery mildew has been a bigger problem than normal this year, especially affecting the zucchini much earlier than in a typical summer.

  • Next summer, if you’re growing to grow zucchini, commit to being on top of daily checks (or don’t do it).
  • Cut off affected leaves as they succumb, leaving just the unaffected leaves intact. This may create a long, snaking stem, trailing along. Despite this, plants should remain fairly productive. Frankly, plants can remain productive even when affected by powdery mildew so it’s not the end of the world if they do get it. You can also use a diluted milk spray treatment.
  • Next season, grow zucchini vertically, tying them in to sturdy upright supports. This will allow better pruning of leaves for better airflow, and will make better use of space, with plants off the ground and trained up.

2. Chard and Beets

During the heat of spring and summer, many crops have bolted (flowered prematurely) before harvesting. Chard and beets are prime examples.

  • The secret to success of many gardeners is not that they get it right the first time (few of us do), but that gardeners plan to have extra plants waiting in the wings. Try to seed chard about a month in advance and pop in those starts (or, seed anew).
  • Pull the bolted crops, spread around some chicken or comfrey pellets for nitrogen, and pop in your starts. 

3. Climbing Beans

Climbing beans—a fine or French bean—will wither in the heat if you don’t keep them constantly quenched, which may be hard to do if you’re not around every day. As a result, the plants will dry out and spiral into decline. 

  • It turns out that the bush beans growing under the shade of tree may do just fine. Bush beans are always a better choice for shade than pole beans. Next year, consider bush beans.
  • This also really demonstrates why it’s worth spreading out your risk, if you like. Grow more than one variety or type of bean or any type of crop, so that you hedge your bets. This way, whether it’s unseasonably hot—or cold—there’ll probably be something to pick and enjoy.

4. Sweet Corn

This summer, some veggies are, well, just a bit smaller than normal. A prime example is sweet corn for many home gardeners.

  • Next year, incorporate more organic matter to improve the soil. This will help the soil maintain more moisture, which will really help if we get another hot summer.

Pests’ Payday! 

As gardeners, we’re always going to have to roll with the punches, and pests throw plenty of those! The dry conditions have meant very few slugs, but—don’t worry—there have been other pests to fill the gap! Here are three of them…

1. Flea Beetles

If you see pin-holed leaves in leafy greens such as kale, cabbage, and broccoli, you’ve got flea beetles. When cool-season crops don’t receive as much water as they’d ideally like, it leaves them more susceptible to flea beetle attack.

  • One solution is to order some new starter brassicas but grow them in pots elsewhere to get them a bit larger, and in the hope that the flea beetles—with little to feed on—might clear off elsewhere in the meantime!
  • Another solution is, of course, setting up drip irrigation for the garden

2. Rodents & Rabbits

You may also note that some critters have come into your garden and caused havoc. Wildlife has really struggled in this dry weather—there’s just less natural food out there.

  • But the lesson learned is to take the time to dig up every last potato before sowing or replanting, to remove any tasty tidbits and to generally keep a closer eye on things.
  • For example, if your tomatoes are at least half green, pick them to avoid having them bitten into by a roving squirrel! Then just put them in a brown bag on your counter and they’ll ripen up better off the vine.

3. Birds

The other monumental pests are the birds and pigeons, depending on where you live. They’ll peck at berries, ripe fruit, seeds, and all kinds of edibles as they’re hungry (and thirsty), too.

  • If you have birds in the garden, the solution is to start relying on more row covers! From now on, in difficult conditions—winter or summer—have covers at the ready to keep plants protected. They can then come off once the plants are a bit bigger and better able to withstand the occasional rasping peck.
  • Why not add a bird bath in another area of the yard so birds can quench their thirst?

Read more about how to keep birds out of the garden.

Drought and Dried Up Soil

With so much watering to do – and long stretches without rain during the summer—something has to be done. We can’t all be watering constantly, especially in areas with water or hose limitations.

  • If you don’t have a rain barrel, consider it. Another idea is to drop in an IBC (intermediate bulk container) tank to hold run off from the roof. If your roof is a decent size, it only takes a good rainstorm to fill up an empty barrel. A full-sized IBC, capable of holding 1,000 liters rather than a measly 250, is the way to go. 
  • Choose plants that succeeded in this heat. Jalapeños and other hot peppers love it dry and love blistering heat. They’ll do wonderfully. Next season, plant more peppers!
  • How about lemongrass? It thrives in heat.
  • Tomatoes will come on a treat too, and the lack of moisture in the air means an escape from dreaded blight!
  • The pumpkins, though they need a lot of food and water, often fare well all the same.

Gardening’s always going to throw up challenges and keep you on your toes – that’s half the fun, right!

Learn more about keeping plants watered in dry, hot summers.

About The Author

Benedict Vanheems

Benedict Vanheems is the author of GrowVeg and a lifelong gardener with a BSc and an RHS General Certificate in horticulture. Read More from Benedict Vanheems

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tom chase (not verified)

1 year 8 months ago

Mentioned in the article was collecting water in a rain bucket / barrel. I have read in the states of Oregon it's against a law to collect rain water in this manner. Especially off roofs. An article reported that a guy dug a large area (pond like hole) and diverted rain water to it for his use. He was sued by the state and had to cease and pay a fine. This can be Internet searched. I have a cousin living in OR.

As a side note, when I was in OR, you couldn't pump gas into your vehicle. A store employee had to do it and gave a note with the amount dispensed and had to take it to the store clerk to pay. Believe NJ is the same. Point being, done for "safety".

Geri Reski (not verified)

1 year 8 months ago

Oh my struggling garden over summer..you weren’t kidding. I learned aphids do not like temps greater than 85* ..not here in AZ. I used a different variety of cukes and zucchini this year and both were highly UNSUCCESSFUL! It’s almost October and not 1 zucchini this year. Cuke? Measly 4 ALL SUMMER LONG! Won’t grow that variety again! The most successful plants were my Southern Belle red onions! Am going to grow them in ‘23. 6 water barrels here and we had lots of rain!