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Vegetable Crops for Hot Weather Gardening

Hot Weather Crops for Your Garden

Choosing hot weather crops

The first key to success with hot weather gardening is choosing crops that are well-adapted to heat.

Summer crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons all fare well in heat and humidity. But if temperatures climb above 90 and stay there, production will slow significantly.

The hot weather crops on this list originated from tropical or subtropical climates, and several of them have been staples in these areas for thousands of years. They have the genes to take the heat! Each crop comes in many varieties, and each variety has its own unique set of climate adaptations.

Notes on temperatures

Air temperatures are listed below. Soil temperature differs from air temperature and has just as much (if not more) impact on your plants. Research your specific cultivars for their soil and air temperature needs.

Temperature profiles for each crop include “low,” “grows,” and “slows” averages. Individual cultivars vary.

Low: At or below this temperature, your hot weather crops will stop producing and may suffer long term damage.

Grows: These are the ideal temperatures for growth and production

Slows: When air temperatures climb this high, your plants’ production will slow. Note that they will survive beyond the “slows” high temperatures. They just won’t grow or produce optimally.

Okra

Temperature Profile

Low: <55°F at night 
Grows: 75-90°F
Slows: >95°F 

Okra was cultivated by ancient Egyptians and is an important crop in tropical and subtropical climates worldwide. In West Africa, for example, the leaves, flowers, seeds, and buds serve an impressive variety of functions, from paper pulp to coffee additive. In the American South, fried okra is a popular side dish that traces its roots to the transatlantic slave route ingenuity of West African women, who braided its seeds into their hair before they were captured and enslaved.

At their peak, okra plants have an other-worldly vibe with distinct leaves, gorgeous flowers, and pleated seed pods.

Okra gets big–up to 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Because of its size, okra casts quite a shadow and is great to interplant with less heat-tolerant vegetables.

The seed pods grow quickly and become tougher the bigger they get. It’s best to harvest the seed pods frequently when they’re about 4 inches long. You can cook them fresh or freeze them, and they pack an impressive nutritional punch.

Growth and production slow above 95°F. When you regularly see >95°F days, prune okra plants down to about 2 feet tall for a bumper crop later in the season. You can also prune them anytime they start growing too tall for you to reach! 

Sweet Potatoes

Temperature Profile

Low: <50°F
Grows: 85-95°F
Slows: >100°F

Sweet potatoes are one of our favorite hot weather crops, but…they’re not actually potatoes! Potatoes are tubers that like temperatures at or below 80°F, and sweet potatoes are tuberous root vegetables perfect for hot weather gardening.

Sweet potato plants produce vigorous vines that quickly spill out into your garden, so make sure you give them plenty of space or a trellis. The leaves are also edible raw or cooked, so you can get your greens in while you wait to harvest the tuberous roots 🙂

You can store raw sweet potatoes for several months in a cool, dark place with good ventilation. Frozen, cooked sweet potatoes are good for six months.

Growth can slow over 100°F, but your sweet potatoes will stay healthy even in that heat if you keep them watered.

Malabar Spinach

Temperature Profile

Low: <50°F
Grows: 75-85°F
Slows: >95°F

You won’t have seen this one at the grocery store yet, but Malabar Spinach is gaining popularity as a great green for hot weather gardening. Most leafy veggies can’t take the heat, but this one sure can.

Malabar Spinach is a vine that can grow six feet or longer. Trellising helps, as does frequent harvest! You can grow Malabar Spinach in full sun or partial shade. The leaves become particularly big and juicy when they get some shade.

You can cook Malabar Spinach or add it to salads just like common spinach. Keep your plants well-watered so the laves don’t become bitter.

Growth slows above 95°F, but making sure your Malabar Spinach has plenty of water and a little shade will keep your plants happy until temperatures cool down.

Hot Peppers

Temperature Profile

Low: <50°F
Grows: 70-90°F
Slows: >95°F

Hot peppers might seem like a no-brainer for hot weather gardening, but just how hot can they handle?

Just like tomatoes, peppers experience blossom drop if temperatures get too hot. Bell peppers are less tolerant of heat than hot peppers. Among hot peppers, temperature tolerance of individual varieties and cultivars. A good rule of thumb is the hotter the pepper, the more heat it can handle.

Make sure your pepper plants get plenty of water. If temperatures regularly top 95°F, pay attention to them. If you start to see blossoms drop, give them some shade. Experiment with different varieties and cultivars to see which hot peppers thrive best in your climate.

Cowpeas

Temperature Profile

Low: <60°F
Grows: 70-95°F
Slows: >95°F

The term “cowpea” includes a wide variety of cultivars with all sorts of textures and flavors, from black-eyed peas to lima beans. Like Okra, cowpeas or “southern peas” originated in West Africa and are an important crop in tropical and subtropical climates.

Cowpeas are a legume, so they are actually beans, not peas. Like other legumes, cowpeas fix nitrogen and build soil. They can be a cover crop and green manure, as well as forage for livestock. Rotating cowpeas through your garden beds will increase the production of other vegetables as well.

If you live in an arid, hot climate, cowpeas are a great option! They are the most drought-tolerant crop on our list, and they continue producing even under harsh conditions. In very dry climates, you may need to provide some water when they flower. Otherwise, irrigation may not be necessary, and it’s important to avoid overwatering.

You can eat cowpeas fresh or leave them on the vine to dry for long term storage.

Let’s do this!

Hot weather gardening is about learning to work with the conditions you have. You can’t change the weather, but by selecting plants that grow well in your conditions, you set yourself up for success with less heartache and less work.

 

Amy Davis
Wordsmith and Client Support

In an age of increasing specialization, Amy proudly calls herself a generalist. She holds a Master’s degree in English, a RYT 200 yoga teacher certification, and is working her way through a bachelor’s in Biology. She believes in nurturing and following curiosity, then taking what you’ve learned and sharing it to better the lives of others.

Amy is an avid chaos gardener and has worked in agriculture for several years. In 2017, she first apprenticed on a Certified Organic vegetable farm and later took over as operations manager there. She also served as greenhouse manager for a local restaurant’s urban farm, and she spent a year in AmeriCorps service to an agriculture nonprofit specializing in education for beginning farmers and gardeners. She has a passion for greenhouse work, and she loves watching tiny little seedlings grow and turn into lunch. Amy and her husband grow an ever-evolving front yard garden in southern Appalachia (apple-atcha).  


References

Albert, S. (2022, June 9). How to plant, grow, and harvest sweet potatoes. Harvest to Table. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://harvesttotable.com/how_to_grow_sweet_potatoes/

Anderson, C. R. (n.d.). Southern peas. University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

Anderson, M. (n.d.). Pepper. Aggie Horticulture. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/vegetables/pepper.html#:~:text=A

Fern, K. (n.d.). Basella alba. Useful Tropical Plants Database. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Basella%2Balba

Kemble, J. (2022, August 8). Rejuvenating okra: Producing two crops from one planting. Alabama

Cooperative Extension. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/lawn-garden/rejuvenating-okra-producing-a-spring-crop-and-a-bigger-fall-crop-from-the-same-planting/

Oregon State University. (2019, October 1). Okra. Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://horticulture.oregonstate.edu/oregon-vegetables/okra-0#:~:text=TEMPERATURE%20REQUIREMENTS,for%20germination%20is%2060%20F

Parkell, N. B., Hochmuth, R. C., & Laughlin, W. L. (2016, April 24). Leafy greens in hydroponics and protected culture for Florida. IFAS Extension. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/hs1279

Pothour, G. (2014, February). Growing sweet potatoes in the Sacramento area. Sacramento ; University of California Cooperative Extension – Sacramento Country.

Qiu, Y., & Liu, G. (2020, September 8). Florida cultivation guide for malabar spinach. IFAS Extension. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/HS1371

Schumaker, P. (2019, June 11). Southern peas – a summer vegetable and a cover crop. UF/IFAS Extension Charlotte County. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/2019/06/11/southern-peas-a-summer-vegetable-and-a-cover-crop/

Smith, P., & Shaughnessy, D. (2003, April 23). Southern peas. Clemson Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/southern-peas/

Smith, P., Polomski, R. F., Shaughnessy, D., & Snipes, Z. (2020, January 14). Okra. Clemson Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/okra/

Do you have a favorite Hot Weather Crop? Share your hot weather gardening success below!

6 Keys to Hot Weather Gardening

If you live in a climate where summer temperatures regularly exceed 90°F, hot weather gardening can be a challenge. Above 95°F, tomato blossom drop can happen, and summer favorites like cucumbers, sweet peppers, and eggplant slow production and become more vulnerable to pests and disease.

The good news is you can take steps to protect your plants and your harvests.

Gathering some information will help you be successful in hot weather gardening:

🔥 Your area’s average high temperatures

🔥 When you can expect the heat to strike

🔥 What temperatures your crops need to thrive

Not sure how hot it gets in your area? You can use Weather Underground’s “Historical Weather” section to learn about weather trends in your area.

All vegetable crops have a temperature sweet spot that supports maximum growth and productivity.

Cool season vegetables are generally leaf and root vegetables that thrive in temperatures between 50 and 70°F. Many can withstand frost, but they slow production and eventually bolt as temperatures climb.

Hot weather crops bear fruit (we call many of them “vegetables”). Summer favorites like tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, mellons, and beans thrive in temperatures between 80 and 90°F. If your high temperatures rarely go above 95°F, you just need to make sure your plants are healthy and watered.

However, if you live in an area that regularly sees temperatures above 95°F, keeping crops cool is key.

Hot weather gardening can be challenging, but just a few measures can keep your plants happy and productive:

  1. Choose crops that can handle the heat. Sweet potatoes, okra, melons, hot peppers, southern peas, and malabar spinach are all great options for hot areas.
  2. Make sure your watering is consistent. Irregular or insufficient watering can stress your plants and make them less resilient in the heat. Sufficient water helps your plants stay healthy and withstand heat.
  3. Provide lots of organic matter with compost. Abundant soil life protects your plants from diseases and makes them more resilient to stress. Soil with high levels of organic matter also holds water better, so you don’t risk losing as much moisture when things heat up.
  4. Interplant to create natural shade in the hottest part of the day. If you orient your garden beds facing West, you can plant tall, heat-loving crops “in front” of other crops to provide shade. Okra grows large with big, broad leaves–like a natural sun canopy that also feeds you!
  5. Space your plants further apart. Biointensive planting has many benefits. But when things heat up, closely spaced plants have to compete more for water and air circulation. Just like you don’t want a long hug on a hot summer day, your plants need a little room to breathe.
  6. Try shade cloth. Shade cloth comes in a variety of densities that provide more or less shade depending on your plants’ needs.

Solving your unique climate and space puzzle takes time, research, and experimentation. Making observations and taking good notes this year can help your garden grow even more next year. And we’re happy to help you learn more along the way!

Join us for our summer series of blogs all about hot weather gardening for bountiful harvests.

Amy Davis
Wordsmith and Client Support

In an age of increasing specialization, Amy proudly calls herself a generalist. She holds a Master’s degree in English, a RYT 200 yoga teacher certification, and is working her way through a bachelor’s in Biology. She believes in nurturing and following curiosity, then taking what you’ve learned and sharing it to better the lives of others.

Amy is an avid chaos gardener and has worked in agriculture for several years. In 2017, she first apprenticed on a Certified Organic vegetable farm and later took over as operations manager there. She also served as greenhouse manager for a local restaurant’s urban farm, and she spent a year in AmeriCorps service to an agriculture nonprofit specializing in education for beginning farmers and gardeners. She has a passion for greenhouse work, and she loves watching tiny little seedlings grow and turn into lunch. Amy and her husband grow an ever-evolving front yard garden in southern Appalachia (apple-atcha).  

Are you experiencing hot weather? Share your hot weather tips in the comment section below!