If you live in a hot climate like we do, having a good garden can be extremely challenging. Where we live, the temperatures commonly climb into the triple digits throughout the summer and stay there. At these temperatures most gardens die and traditional gardening methods fail. Below are some tips that we currently use to have a luscious garden even through the hot summer months.
1. Lowered Beds Everybody is familiar with raised garden beds where you basically build a box and elevate the garden bed. While this simplifies the work by making gardening chores easier, this is the opposite route to go in hot climates. Due to being elevated, the root system of the plants get hotter than they normally would. The cure for this is lowered beds. With lowered beds you basically dig the beds below ground level. You start off like this:
At this point, you can add good soil or amend the soil that you dug out and refill the bed to about five inches below ground level. The idea here is the deeper you go, the cooler the soil temperature is going to be. Soil temperature is critical in hot weather gardening because if the soil is too hot the plants die, go dormant or quit producing. Being below ground level also helps with watering because rain water tends to collect in low places. Rain is scarce where we live so we have to be prepared to maximize what we get.
2. Mulch, Mulch and More Mulch Mulch has multiple benefits for hot weather gardening. Applied thick enough it acts as an insulation barrier from the sun to keep the soil temperature cooler. At high temperatures, bare soil collects heat, acts like an oven and can bake a plants root system. Mulch aids water conservation and helps maintain the proper water saturation level of the soil. When we do our lowered beds, the top five inches are mulch. Most any type of mulch can be used. We have used pine bark, pine needles, shredded pine cones, cedar chippings, straw, leaves and composted grass clippings.
3. Most Weeds Are Not Your Enemy The first response of most people to seeing a weed is to yank it out. This is contrary logic in hot weather gardening as weeds can help act as a living mulch and therefore act as an insulation barrier from the sun. Weeds can also help maintain the water saturation level of the soil. The trick is to know your weeds. The best weeds for this are those that are sprawling and shallow rooted as they usually don’t interfere with the deeper rooted vegetables.
We let this and many others grow throughout our garden and throughout the years they have helped add much organic matter to the soil. When the weeds get too tall we just mow them down. You just have to find out what weeds are useful in your area.
When gardening this way it is best to practice deep planting. In other words, where you would normally transplant a seedling at ground level, here you would plant it several inches below and fill the void with mulch. While you’ll never be able to grow everything in a hot environment, these tips can help you push the boundaries of what you can grow and grow better.
One last tip is to buy locally sourced seeds and plantings and buy heat adapted varieties when available. A good resource for this is http://www.nativeseeds.org/. It also helps to save seeds for replanting year after year as they become adaptive to the environment.
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