Summer Heat Gardening Tips

Expert advice for growing and protecting plants in hot weather.
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Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa

Beating the Heat

With summer comes more sunshine, hotter days and lower humidity. Raymundo Ocampo, Grounds Manager of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa in Tucson Arizona, faces the challenges of maintaining garden spaces in the summer heat head on and shares his tips for keeping things green when an oppressive summer heat has other ideas.

Location, Location

Selecting a planting site is never more important than when a hot summer threatens the health of plants. “Choose an area with plenty of morning sunlight and some afternoon shade. Growing your own vegetables will bring enjoyment to your life,” says Ocampo. "You will be able to tell the difference in flavor, providing delicious and highly nutritious fresh food, as I always mention, fresh food from the garden improves the taste."

Preparing the Garden Space

“Remove about fourteen inches of native soil and install good planting soil. Keep in mind you will need to decide the size of your garden, so start modestly. You can always add to it later.”

Shade Cloth

“Our climate is extreme,” says Ocampo of the Southwestern weather in Arizona. “Limited rainfall and blazing summer sun requires a reliable watering system. It is easier to mitigate too much sunlight than too much shade. Shade cloth is an easy inexpensive fix but placing the garden in the shade can rob plants of the sunlight they require. Most vegetables are heavy feeders and need soil well supplied with plant food and the three nutrients used most by your plants or called macronutrients are nitrogen, which stimulates green leaf growth and forms proteins and chlorophyll, phosphorus , contributing to root, flower and fruit development and potassium, which promotes stem and root growth and the synthesis of proteins.”

Test Soil

Ocampo explains that starting with the right soil can make all the difference when planting for success. “Valley soil is rich in minerals but lacks organic matter. Most likely you will encounter calcium and magnesium carbonate, the reason why our soils are high in P.H and alkaline. After good planting soil applied, you must improve the soil condition by applying lots of organic matter which improves nutrient and water holding capacity, drainage and aeration.”

Enrich Soil

“Use minerals such as soil sulfur along with gypsum.” continues Ocampo.  “Sulfur will help lower the P.H. and gypsum with water penetration, you could use from 2-5 pounds per every 100 square feet. Besides that you have to use a fertilizer that contains nitrogen and phosphorus; you could use one or up to two pounds of fertilizer per every 100 square feet, mix it well and level the area.”

What to Grow

“Gardening success can be greatly influenced by the varieties you use,” explains Ocampo.  “Do your research and reach out to cooperative extensions for information, find a reputable source for your seeds or your transplants read the labels and select plants that look healthy.”

Mulch and Weeds

“Weeds compete for water, nutrients and sunlight and often harbor insects and diseases.  Mulching is covering the soil around the veggies, besides controlling weeds, the mulch will conserve moisture and regulates the soil temperature. You might spread straw, pine needles or other organic matter to a depth of about three inches, replenishing throughout the season as needed.”

When to Water

Ocampo reminds us that careful watering is essential to successful cultivation. “Summer in the Southwest is hot and dry, you must water your garden early in the morning or late evening to beat the heat. Irrigate and avoid run off. Water just enough to keep soil moist. Regular applications of water need to be made to prevent the soil from becoming too dry.”

Improve Soil Fertility

“Apply lots of organic matter anytime you rotate crops,” adds Ocampo.  “Avoid egg shells and wood ash when working with alkaline soil, to avoid creating imbalance.”

Fertilizing

“Keep in mind that your vegetables use up nutrients and they must have enough in reserve to flourish,” advises Ocampo. “Remember that not all plants have the same fertilizer requirements, so check plant requirements before applying any fertilizer.”

Plant Spacing

“Plants compete with each other for water, nutrients and sunlight. Do not hesitate to thin plants that have been over seeded, or are too close to each other. Good air circulation between plants can help reduce insect and disease problems.” This avocado tree on site produces 350 avocados annually.

Insects and Disease

“Sooner or later, you will be face the challenge of insects and diseases. The best practices against both are to maintain healthy living soils with thousands of microorganisms to break down decaying organic matter and provide nutrients to growing plants. Healthy plants are better able to ward off insects and diseases, encouraging beneficial insects or using companion plants are also helpful ways to minimize damage from insects.”