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.
Low: <55°F at night
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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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).
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