Surviving the Summer: Tips for Warm Weather Gardening in Southern California

Written by Kara M.

When it comes to the weather, those of us in Southern California are often the envy of our friends and counterparts in other parts of the country. We are blessed with relatively warm, sunny weather most of the year. While our pals back east and up north spend their winters shoveling snow, we have the luxury of throwing on a jacket and perhaps a pair of gloves before going out to enjoy the sunshine.

However, this also means our summers can get HOT. While this is good news for our inner beach bums, it’s not always great for the plants in our garden. If you’re not careful, it can be easy to lose plants to the intense heat and sun of a Southern California summer. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to protect your plants on our warmest days. Here are some tips and tricks for summer gardeners to remember.

Mulch is your friend

In the summer, the sun can be relentless. While it’s great for our tans, it’s not necessarily ideal for our plants. High temperatures and bright sunshine can raise the temperature of soil, and completely dry it out. One way to prevent this is through the liberal application of mulch. Mulch covers and protects your soil, helping to keep it cool, as well as lock in moisture. In addition to traditional mulch made of shredded wood, there are other kinds of mulch that can be effective in your garden, depending on your specific needs. Alternative mulches can be made of straw, leaves, or even glass clippings.

Weeds are not your friends

Many weeds have evolved to thrive in hot, dry conditions. This means that in the summertime, they may grow and spread more quickly than usual. It’s important to weed aggressively and often throughout the summer to avoid your garden being overcome by stubborn weeds. Additionally, weeds use up moisture from the soil, which means there’s less left for your plants to use. This can become problematic in the summer when soil can easily become dry. Speaking of water…

Use water wisely

It probably goes without saying that many plants require more frequent watering when the temperature heats up. Even plants protected by sufficient shade become thirstier in the summer. To counteract this, your best bet is to get on a consistent summer watering schedule. As a rule of thumb, don’t wait for your plants to begin to wilt before you water them. Try to anticipate when they’ll need water, and hydrate them before they show signs of distress.

One thing to consider is when to water your plants, as in what time of day. In the summer, it’s important to water your garden either early in the morning before the sun becomes too intense, or in the evening once it has cooled off a bit. Watering midday can be futile and ineffective, as the heat can cause the water to evaporate before it reaches the plants. Save your garden (and your water bill) by watering smartly.

Provide shade

Most plants do best when they are in the shade at least part of the day. If your property is especially sunny, or if you have delicate plants that are in direct sunlight, it might be best to help them out by providing some shade. There are a few ways to do this.

For temporary shade during the summer, consider using shade cloth. You can mount this gauzy material on stakes and drape it over the top of your plants, creating a porous ceiling of sorts that filters out some of the harshest heat and sun while still allowing in air and light. When planting new crops, consider how they might be able to help one another. For example, some low to the ground, crawling plants can be planted around the base of other plants to provide protection for the soil and roots. Alternatively, some shade-loving plants can do well when planted in the shadows of trees or other dense shrubs and plants that provide a shade cover. Finally, a decorative option is a shade trellis. Consider growing vines or climbing plants on the trellis, while planting more sensitive plants underneath it, protected from the sun. Not only is this method effective, but it can also be an eye-catching centerpiece to any outdoor garden.

Plant the right plants

Finally, make sure you are planting the right plants. Not every plant species is meant for every climate. Things that grow well in cooler, more humid climates like New England may not do well in the dry summer heat of Southern California, and vice versa. Whenever possible, it’s good to do a little research on what sorts of plants might thrive in your yard before diving into planting.

Fortunately, our climate here is well-suited for lots and lots of plant varieties. However, there are some plants that not only survive our summers but thrive in our hot summer sun. Here are just a few plants that are perfect for even our most scorching summer days:

Moonshine Yarrow

This hardy and fast-growing perennial boasts eye-catching bright yellow blooms that can brighten up any summer garden. Its unique, clustered flowers feature flat tops that set it apart in appearance from traditional flowering plants. While it can be relatively high maintenance, especially before it reaches maturity, this variety prefers full sunlight, and average to dry soil, making it a great choice to weather the intensity of a Southern California summer. In addition to being drought resistant, it’s also very tolerant of urban pollution, which means that even if you live in a city area, it can still thrive.

Wonderful Pomegranate

One of the best things about our warm climate is the ability to grow an abundance of fruit trees. One of our favorites is the wonderful pomegranate. Full disclosure, growing a pomegranate tree requires patience… and a lot of space. It can take some time for this shrub to reach maturity and start producing fruit, but we think it’s worth the wait. However, since it can reach a height of up to 15 feet, and have a spread of 12 feet, it’s important to make sure you have the space to accommodate such a large plant. The wonderful pomegranate requires full sunlight and is tolerant of dry growing conditions, making it a relatively low-maintenance plant to care for during the summer months.

Mysty Salvia

There are many varieties of the salvia plant, but we particularly like the striking mysty salvia. This plant producing tall, upright spikes of flowers throughout the late spring and summer. The flowers are a dark blue-violet color, giving the plant a picturesque and memorable appearance. This evergreen perennial can be grown in partial shade or full sun and adapts to a variety of growing conditions. It is drought-tolerant, and can withstand most urban pollution, making it a solid choice for a summer garden.

No matter what plants you choose to fill your garden, there are easy ways to protect and care for them during our warm summer weather. With a little TLC, your plants will sail through the season, rewarding you with beautiful blooms and lush growth. Happy summer gardening, Green Thumbs!

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