by Matt Gibson
When the summer weather starts to heat up, some plants wither away, while others stand up to the heat, and even thrive in hot conditions, such as these 12 heat tolerant vegetables for the summer garden. While there are some tricks of the trade that might help you gain a little bit of luck seeing your spring veggies through an especially warm summer, it’s a safer idea to seek out and plant lots of vegetables that are specifically heat-tolerant, and are cultivated to produce well during the summer months, instead of trying to defy the laws of nature.
While some plants simply do okay during the summer, there are a whole slew of vegetables that were born for the task, and they will keep you eating your own fresh garden-grown produce in abundance all summer long. The following 12 vegetables are the best picks for your summer garden.
Bide your time until the weather is as hot as it’s like to get in your area to plant these slightly-sweet, hot day and warm night-loving spuds. When it becomes too hot to grow traditional potato crops, sweet potatoes come to the rescue. After planting, keep an eye on the seedlings until they are established, making sure to keep the soil moist until they form into vines and begin to spread across the ground.
In around 90 days, you can start pulling up your sweet potato harvest and picking out some recipes. In the meantime, feel free to worry about something else, because sweet potatoes need little to no attention from you to sprout in abundance. Plus, sweet potato plants need no hilling, and can be easily preserved for the following summer by storing in a root cellar or similar climate.
Whether you plan to fry it, pickle it, toss it into a soup or enjoy it fresh in a salad, okra is a wonderful plant to grow in the summer garden. Not only is the okra plant self-sufficient, it adapts to especially dry and hot conditions like a champ, and is even widely considered heat and drought-tolerant in most climates.
The hairy (and somewhat slimy) seed pods are an essential ingredient in the cajun favorite, gumbo. Also called lady fingers, the original okra plant has been bred and modified to create new hybrids, each with their own benefits, but the older heirloom varieties are the way to go, as they have deeper root systems that are more suited to hot weather conditions and less susceptible to nematode problems. Spineless varieties tend to stay tender for longer after harvesting.
Bell peppers are easy to grow during the warm summer months. Slightly sweet, and not at all spicy, these peppers are enjoyed in stews, salads, sandwiches, and more. Gardeners in the south should look for nematode resistant varieties. Try growing ‘Carolina Wonder,’ and ‘Charleston Belle,’ from seed for starters. Depending on when they are harvested, bell peppers can be yellow, orange, red, or green.
Hot peppers are not just super prolific during the summer months. They actually produce from spring all the way to fall with no problems in most climates. Some hot pepper varieties tend to slow down production a bit during the warmer months while increasing in flavor and heat intensity. The hotter peppers don’t seem to slow in production during the summer at all though, but keep right on sprouting fresh fruit with a spicy kick. Hot peppers grow all around the world in hot climate areas.
It’s no surprise, then, that hot climate areas tend to have a tendency towards spice-heavy dishes, as that’s where all the hot peppers grow freely. Try out a few different kinds of hot peppers in your garden. Plant the more popular jalapeno and serrano peppers, but try at least one lesser known variety. We recommend Aji Dulce, which has a unique, slightly-spicy, and complex flavor that we just can’t get enough of. Another bonus for growing hot peppers is that they are generally pest resistant, sometimes even pest deterrent, due to their boldness of flavor and aroma.
Of all the members of the Solanaceous family, which includes tomatoes and potatoes, the eggplant takes the crown for best summer crop. The elongated Asian varieties or the globe-shaped Mediterranean eggplants are the best picks for the home garden. We recommend the following three options. It’s never a bad idea to start with an heirloom plant, and growing the flavorful heirloom, Listada de Gandia, native to France and Italy, is no exception. Listada, which is known for thriving in hot weather. The more popular Black Beauty is perfectly suited for the southern US as well and has a high rate of success. Finally, the long, narrow Asian variety, Ping Tung Long, can endure the most intensely hot and humid climates in the world.
What vegetable is more reminiscent of the summer than cucumber? All cucumbers require is nutritious and moist soil and a whole lot of sun to produce in abundance. Just a few plants will give you plenty of cucumbers for the season. You will likely have more than enough, which is never a bad thing, as you can always make a few batches of pickles to use throughout the year, or even give away a basket or two to close friends, family, or neighbors with less fortunate gardening abilities.
Corn is one of the most popular summer vegetables that you can grow with relative ease. A mild tasting vegetable that can be grown with relatively little maintenance, corn is a common choice for many gardeners. Corn tastes great on just about anything. Add it to soups, salads, wraps, chili, pizza, and practically anything else that you can think of. Keep your corn plants well watered and keep an eye out for worms that like to munch on the ears of the plants. If you see any worms on your corn plants, remove them and put them into your compost pile, where they will work to the benefit of your garden, instead of against you.
Squash and Zucchini, both summer and winter varieties, are best grown in hot weather environments. If you live in a region where squash vine borers or squash bugs are an issue, avoid problems by starting your seeds indoors and waiting to transplant the seedlings outside until late June or early July. Use row covers to protect your plants until they begin to bloom. You can also cover stems with soil to protect against vine borer damage as your plants mature.
Southern peas, or cowpeas, are easy to grow, and surprisingly versatile, both in the garden and the kitchen. When the pods are young, they can be munched on in the same way as snap beans would. Once matured, green snap peas can be cooked into a wonderful side dish, or eaten raw, as a salad topping. You can also dry them and store them to cook and eat at any time you wish.
Beans (Yard-Long & Green)
Yard-long beans, also known as asparagus beans, have a sweet, nutty flavor. These highly productive plants can be grown on teepees, and will provide shade for neighboring plants that don’t do well when grown in direct sunlight.
Green beans are another great choice for the summer veggie garden. Choose pole beans for a long season of steady production, or bush beans for a super quick crop.
Spinach (Malabar & New Zealand)
Malabar Spinach is a vining plant that produces a tasty, nutrient rich foliage that can be used as a salad green or cooked into a tasty side dish. Malabar Spinach is best grown in climates that have 90 degree temperatures throughout the summer.
New Zealand Spinach, though not technically a spinach, does produce lots of heat-tolerant leaves that can be used as a spinach replacement and can be grown in most areas during the summer.
Tomatoes (Tomatillos & Other Southern Species)
Great for salsas, sauces, and dressing pasta, tomatillos are green, heat-loving fruits that grow prolifically in the garden and in the wild. Some areas in mexico use tomatillos for their staple salsa base.
Tomatoes that are grown in the deep south are also great choices for summer gardens. Tomato varieties such as Neptune, Tropic VFN, and Ozark Pink VF are all great choices for growing during the summer.
The twelve crops listed above should give you plenty of options to choose from when selecting the right veggies to grow during the summer months.