Late Summer Vegetable Garden Staples
Late summer in the vegetable garden is a blessing and a curse. By late July, the enthusiasm you began the planting season with in late spring has likely been exhausted by weeds, heat and the persistent notes about what you'll do differently next year. You know - those peppers are too close together, my tomato stakes aren't sturdy enough, I should have underplanted with a few more flowers - we gardeners are always thinking about the next garden. When your first crops have started to wane, turn to these proven late summer performers for crops into October and potentially beyond.
Peppers are a vegetable garden staple for many, starting in April. Peppers planted in April will do just fine, but grow slowly until the heat of summer really steps up. I prefer to plant peppers in my Zone 8A garden in the first week of June, after pulling out my early crop of carrots, radishes and lettuce. Peppers thrive in summer heat. Plant them as late as mid-July and you'll be enjoying peppers until the first hard frost.
Did you know that peppers are perennial? If you get too late of a start or have a plant you really just love, try potting it up and keeping it under grow lights indoors over winter. This will give you an extra early start next year, with potential for a few fruits over winter.
Like peppers, okra can be planted early, but since this fibrous, flower-powered vegetable mostly idles until the heat really kicks up, there's no reason to plant it before June. The plants will grow up to 7 feet tall, with pretty, short-lived, hibiscus-type flowers.
Okra thrives even in full, burning afternoon sun that some plants just can't tolerate. Consider underplanting them with some pollinator-friendly flowers after they reach about a foot tall for an even more ornamental effect.
Okra is a prolific producer and isn't picky about conditions. Keep it picked about every other day for a crop that will last until the first frost. For ways to prepare okra, check out this page with my five favorite ways to use okra.
Melons like watermelon and canatlope need considerable space to spread out and, thus, aren't ideal for every garden. Despite their reputation as the perfect fruit to accompany a 4th of July cookout, they really don't start to peak until early August and will continue to crop until a few weeks before the first frost in most USDA growing zones.
Consider planting melons as a groundcover with your early summer taller vegetables like corn. I like to plant them under my early sunflowers that peak in late July, and the melons don't mind a little light shade, especially in the afternoon.
As beautiful as they are useful, sunflowers are a great way to attract pollinators to your garden. For edible seed varieties, stick with single-stem types. For pollinators and ornamental value, multi-stem varieties like the strawberry lemonade mix from Johnny's Selected Seeds offer colors ranging from traditional yellow to whites, pinks and reds. Leave the seed heads in place on multi-stem varieties to attract a range of birds, particularly gold finches, to your garden. They may also munch on a pest or two for you in exchange for the favor!
Succession Plantings of Early Summer Veggies
Cucumbers, determinate tomato varieties, beans, corn and other early summer crops will also do well in late summer, provided they are planted at the right time. I recommend planting a plot every month for continuous supply of these summer favorites, right up until the first frost.
Basil and other herbs get woody and bolt after a few weeks, so for the most tender herbs I recommend succession planting for those as well.
Garden centers are generally low on stock after early June, so for succession planting you may want to learn more about starting plants from seed. After the spring's cool nights have passed, I've had success in starting seeds outdoors without added light as long as the seed trays are covered until germination and are watered daily. This avoids taking up space indoors and setting up grow lights - let the sun be your grow light.
Don't be afraid to experiment with different planting times in your area for these and any other of your favorite vegetables. Regional differences abound, not just in climate but also in pest pressures that may ebb after certain times in your area. Have fun and try something new each growing season for continued learning and greater success year after year.
© 2019 Phoebe Lee