During summer, the sun finally comes out, the days grow longer, and the weather turns warmer—all signs that we should start enjoying the outdoors. For many, it’s also a great time to start a summer garden.
However, if you’re a newbie gardener, you might not know where to begin. After all, while some plant varieties thrive in warm weather, others grow better in cool weather.
In this guide, we’ll give you some vegetable gardening tips for the summer season to ensure a bountiful harvest.
About Summer Vegetable Gardening
Summer Planting Season
In the northern hemisphere, the months of June, July, and August comprise the summer season.
During these three months, you typically experience very hot weather, high temperatures, and the longest days.
For some varieties of vegetables such as tomatoes, winter squashes, and peppers, these are the most ideal growing conditions, with optimal soil temperature and full sun exposure.
Avoid spring varieties like lettuce and broccoli, which require cooler temperatures.
If you’re blessed with a long growing season in your area, you can plant twice—once at the start of summer (or even before then) and once during midsummer for a late summer vegetable harvest.
However, before purchasing any seeds or young plants, make sure to check how long they will take to mature, as some varieties of fruits and vegetables take longer to grow than others.
During this time, you can also start planting fall crops so they’re ready to be harvested by autumn or early winter.
These include mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, cabbage, lettuce, Swiss chard, and spinach, among others.
Got a late start to your vegetable garden?
The good news is, quick-growing crops and frost-hardy plants can still be sown at this time. Pick seeds that will mature before the first frost or plant varieties that will stay alive throughout the winter season.
If the first frost in your area isn’t until mid-autumn or later, you can also opt to plant fall crops now.
Spinach, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, and other fall varieties will still thrive as long as you protect them properly when the temperatures drop.
If you’re running short on time, you can speed up the process by transplanting crops instead of growing from seed.
Summer Harvest Season
Although some plants can be planted and harvested in one season, some take a little longer to mature.
Thus, if you want a summer harvest for certain crops with long growing seasons (like tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash), you have to start by spring or right after the last frost.
On the other hand, quick-maturing plants can be harvested once, twice, or even thrice throughout summer!
Best Summer Vegetables
You really have many options when creating your summer vegetable garden. As long as you keep track of the maturity dates, watering schedules, and other care instructions, your plants will grow strong and healthy.
Here are some of our recommendations to get started!
Harvest in: 65-100 days
If you want to grow sweet corn successfully, you need two things: lots of space and effective pollination.
If not enough pollen is transferred from the corn tassels all the way to the immature ears, then the plant may be underdeveloped when it’s time to harvest.
Given this, you should plant corn at least 1 foot apart for proper pollination.
Since corn is shallow-rooted as well, regular watering is a must, especially during dry and hot weather. Lastly, consider using a good quality organic fertilizer for optimal growth.
For most varieties of corn, harvesting can be done around 20 days after the tassels appear.
Good companion plants for corn include squash and beans.
Harvest in: 50-70 days
Fresh cucumbers are so bright, crisp, and juicy—who wouldn’t want to enjoy them during summer?
Fortunately, these heat-loving plants grow quickly as long as you expose them to full sun, plant them in healthy soil, and water them regularly. It helps when they’re around pollinating insects too.
Both bush and vine types are great options. The latter produces more fruit, but it also takes up more space in your garden.
When the plants start to bear flowers and fruit, try to harvest often so that they get used to producing more cucumbers.
If left on the vine for too long, cucumbers can turn bitter, so pick them before this happens!
Something to note is that when planted alongside corn, beans, or peas, cucumbers tend to grow quite well.
Harvest in: 100-120 days
Eggplants take a little longer to grow, so start planting around 3 weeks after the last frost.
If your area has a short growing period, start indoors then transfer the plant into your garden once the soil temperature is high enough. Typically, a transplanted eggplant will mature after only 65-80 days.
Although eggplant responds well to heat, the crop requires cool and moist soil to thrive. To achieve this, add mulch and water consistently, but make sure that the soil is still well-drained.
Once the eggplants look shiny, you can start harvesting immediately, regardless of their size. Don’t wait too long, as the eggplant may lose its flavor over time.
Generally, this plant flourishes with amaranth, beans, peppers, and spinach as its companion plants.
Harvest in: 50-100 days
Planting winter squash, summer squash, and zucchini during warm weather is a good idea, as they’ll bear fruit just in time for fall.
Since these plants do not transplant well, you have to sow the seeds right after the last frost to ensure an early harvest.
Make sure your soil is both well-drained (by having a proper irrigation system in place) and nutrient-dense (by using compost or fertilizer).
Now, while winter squash can take 60-100 days to mature, summer squash only needs about 50-65 frost-free days, so you can do multiple harvests if you start early!
You should pick squash and zucchini while they’re young and tender—they’ll go bad when the skins toughen and the rinds harden. Plus, harvesting encourages more production of flowers and fruit.
Grow these alongside corn, cucumbers, and beans for the best results.
Harvest in: 40-75 days
Like other summer vegetables, okra does well in the heat, exposed to full sun. You can plant okra seeds in your garden a few weeks after the last frost for a large supply in the coming months.
Alternatively, you can transplant seedlings that you started indoors, but be gentle with them, as their roots are very delicate. These should be transferred outdoors and into the soil by midsummer.
Once okra pods are around 3 to 4 inches long, you can start harvesting them. We encourage you to pick them regularly, as the pods will stop producing if left to overmature.
Companion plants for okra include melons, cucumbers, and eggplant.
Harvest in: 60-95 days
Planting seeds from hot peppers or bell peppers should begin no later than 1 to 2 weeks after the last frost. If you expect to start later, consider using a transplant instead.
Peppers love full sun, rich soil, and consistent moisture, so make sure to give them the proper care they need to flourish. Once you begin to see flowers and fruit, you can add fertilizer to encourage plant growth.
While sweet peppers can be picked green or immature, hot peppers should be left to ripen fully to achieve the level of heat you’re looking for in the vegetable.
Good companion plants for this crop are tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, winter radishes, and squash.
Harvest in: 65-85 days
Unlike some other vegetables, tomatoes should be sown indoors first 5 to 6 weeks before the last frost because they have a long growing season. Once night temperatures have risen to 50 degrees Fahrenheit or more, you can plant tomatoes outdoors.
Because tomatoes love the heat, they should get 6 to 8 hours of sun exposure a day.
Combine this with sturdy stakes/trellises for support, consistent watering, and good fertilizer, and you’ll have a bountiful harvest by August.
If they don’t mature before the first frost, make sure to protect them with row covers!
Once tomatoes begin to lose their waxy smoothness and they’re just in between firm and soft, they’re ready to be harvested! Remember, they continue to ripen off the vine, so pick them as soon as they’re ready.
You’ll know if you picked them too early or late because the best tomatoes should be sweet, juicy, and tender.
Harvest in: 90-170 days
Unlike regular potatoes, sweet potatoes love the heat and don’t do well in the cold. With that said, this crop should be planted in your garden when the soil is adequately warm—about a month after the last frost date.
After planting the seeds, make sure you water the soil and roots enough so they grow strong, healthy vines that spread across the ground.
Once they’re big enough, they can be picked from the garden and used in all your favorite fall menu recipes!
Note that while sweet potatoes grow well beside dill, parsnips, and thyme, you shouldn’t place them beside squash, as its vines will fight for space and cause overcrowding at the plant site.
Harvest in: 40-45 days
Although spinach and other fall garden vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, and kale typically require cooler soil temperatures to grow, the Malabar variety is a unique crop that thrives best in the heat.
Malabar Spinach seeds should be planted in warm, well-drained soil, and it requires constant exposure to full or partial sun throughout the day.
As long as it has a sturdy trellis or fence for support and it isn’t touched by frost, it will grow quickly and abundantly in your garden.
Now, this crop isn’t a true spinach, so its flavor is a cross between chard and spinach. However, we still find it quite tasty tossed with lettuce, other greens, and maybe some fruit in a fresh garden salad.
Plant this beside beans for great results!
Harvest in: 50-60 days
Known for being easy and quick to grow, bush beans can immediately be sown into the soil once its temperature warms to around 60 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
Since these beans mature rapidly, you can plant new seeds every three weeks.
Water the beans often, pick them regularly once they start producing fruit, and you’ll find yourself with a constant supply all throughout the season. Just remember to stop sowing new seeds around 2 months before the first frost date, since these are sensitive to the cold.
Harvest in: 60-90 days
Pole beans grow at a slower rate compared to bush beans, so they’ll produce less, especially as the weather grows colder.
However, they thrive in the same conditions as bush beans, so as long as you water them regularly and keep them warm, all that’s left to do is wait for the harvest! These may take a longer time to mature, but you’ll be blessed with steady production once they do.
Beginner gardeners are often intimidated by the thought of a summer vegetable garden.
However, with the right tips and information, it’s actually not difficult to change things up depending on the season. After all, choosing the right plants will ensure effective and efficient growth all year round.
Now that you have the list of crops you need, get started so you can have fresh vegetables for your perfect summer/fall menu!