At the first hint of warmer weather, people across the country start to long for summer's gentle breeze, lush lawns, blooming flowers and, of course, thriving gardens. Whether you live in California's southern coast or the mountainous inlands of Maine, getting that summer garden to thrive throughout the season is actually quite simple—just follow this summer planting guide complete with expert tips from HGTV's Jamie Durie, host of The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie.
When to Plant
If you plant too early in the season, you run the risk of frost and freezing nights killing off your plants and damaging their growth. That's why the end of May to early June, depending on the climate where you live, can be the safest time to plant. To get an idea of when you should start to plant, determine the average last spring frost date in your area and go from there.
As far as the best type of day to plant, steer clear of windy days when summer's gentle breeze turns into forceful gusts. Not only can this destroy a plant's leaves, but it can also cause serious stress to the roots, hindering the growth process. So keep an eye on the sky for a calm, cloudy summer day when neither the wind nor the sun can damage your efforts.
Preparing the Soil
Before you even think about what to plant in your garden, you have to take the time to prepare the soil. "Soil is the most important part of any garden," Jamie says. "You really need to look after it."
First, remove all the weeds from your garden area. Weeds compete with your crops for nutrients and water, so you'll want to be on the lookout for them throughout your garden's growth, not just at the beginning.
Next, loosen up the soil. Jamie uses a gardening fork and works the soil by digging and turning. He then mixes a rich, organic matter like compost through the top inch of soil. Finally, add a layer of mulch to help preserve moisture—it's one of the best things you can do for your garden in the summer. But be careful, Jamie cautions. If the mulch is too close to the stem of the plant, it can cause fungal problems.
In general, vegetables can be divided into two groups: cool-season vegetables and warm-season vegetables. The latter, perfect for summer planting, require longer periods of sunlight, warmer temperatures and warmer soil to survive and thrive. They are also especially sensitive to frost, which is why it's particularly important to plant after the last spring frost date.
Warm-season vegetables include:
Beans (lima beans and snap beans, specifically)
Corn (requires a lot of room)
Vegetables to avoid during the summer—the cool-season vegetables—include lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and peas. They can't tolerate the summer heat, so don't plant any of these veggies in your garden this season.
In terms of laying out your garden, a good rule is to plant the tallest crops (beans and corn) on the northern side, because this will prevent them from shading the rest of your vegetables. Just south of them should be your next-tallest crops (tomatoes and squash), followed by the lowest-growing crops (beets and carrots) on the southernmost section.
Like vegetables, some herbs grow better in the summer warmth than do others. If you're thinking of adding fragrant herbs to your garden, here are some of the best for the season:
Not only are these herbs delicious on their own, but they can also complement the taste of your summer veggies, as Jamie points out. "Basil is a perfect flavor match with tomatoes," he says. "They are easy to look after, and they contribute to so many different dishes in the kitchen."
As soon as you plant your vegetables and herbs, the very next thing you should do is water them generously and deeply. (This helps the soil settle around the plants' roots.)
Whatever you do, don't spray the plants with water! If, for some reason, you have to use a spray bottle or sprinkler, make sure you don't leave any water on the plants' leaves, otherwise you're putting them at risk for fungal disease. You can then keep watering your plants when the top inch of soil is dry. Depending on the type of crop, this may be once a week or once every other day. Jamie recommends giving them a good, long watering, rather than several shallow, fast waterings.
While it's important to keep your crops well-watered, you also don't want to overwater them. "The most common symptoms of overwatering plants include wilting and drooping foliage, defoliation, stunted growth and, in some cases, mold around the stem and leaves of the plant," Jamie says. "A good way to check if a plant has been overwatered is to pull it out and look at the roots—rotten roots are a good indication of overwatering."
Additional Summer Gardening Tips
Because there are different varieties of vegetables out there, buy two or three different varieties and plant them in your garden. That way, if you happen to buy one that doesn't thrive, you still have backup plants that will.