The Best Plants to Grow in Your Kitchen Garden All Summer Long
Feeling hot, hot, hot? Well, guess what? Your plants can get overheated too. When I first moved to Houston, my tomato plants were wilting before July even hit with its triple digits and I was despairing of ever having a healthy, thriving summer garden.
As it turns out, there was no need to despair. Your vegetable garden can last through the heat of the summer. You just have to plant the right plants for the weather.
The heat-tolerant plants mentioned in this post are perfect for those of you with a true hot season. Let's first look at what it means to experience a hot season in your garden.
What Is a Hot Season?
To have a hot growing season, you have at least a couple months where the average high temp is above 85°F. This is definitely the case for my Houston friends from about mid-June through September.
During a hot season, it'll be too hot outside for many plants to grow, including some of our favorite fruiting plants like tomatoes and cucumbers. These plants may love warm weather, but they need the nighttime temps to dip below 75°F to help them recover. You can probable manage to keep these plants alive if you cover them with some shade cloth and keep them well watered, but you shouldn't expect them to set any fruit once the temperatures are above 90°F.
If your hot season lasts for a short time, you can interplant my recommendations below with the plants already growing in your garden. Adding in plants that can tolerate heat is the only way you'll get harvests for the next couple of months until it cools down a bit.
If you live in a colder climate, you might not have enough of a hot season to carry a hot season plant through to maturity. You might just accept there will be a short period of time when you don't have as much production from your plants. It's probably not worth pulling them.
Now, if you live in a place that stays hot for a very long time, then you might want to transition your garden entirely to a hot season garden. That means growing only the plants listed below to make it through the hottest part of the year.
Fortunately, there are so many beautiful and delicious plants on this list, everything from cut flowers to fruits that your whole family will enjoy growing!
Our Top 20 Plants for Summer Planting in Hot Climates
These 20 plants can take the heat!
- Armenian cucumber
- Crowder peas
- Hot peppers
- Luffa gourd
- Malabar spinach
- Sweet potatoes
Now let's look at how to grow these heat-lovers.
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Hot Season Plants
Angelonia Is My Favorite Heat-Loving Flower
I love putting angelonia flowers, also called summer snapdragons, on the edge of a raised bed in my kitchen garden. Angelonia is one of the hardiest flowers we've ever grown. I started putting them in clients' gardens years ago just because they're so beautiful; I'd come back to the gardens in the middle of summer, expecting everything to be wilted or dead, and all the angelonia plants would still be upright and gorgeous.
Flowers come in shades of purple and pink. Since angelonia seeds can be slow to germinate, I recommend buying young plants from your local nursery.
If you've got a really hot summer or drought conditions, this is a fantastic flower for your garden.
Armenian Cucumbers Thrive in Heat
If you're looking for a great fruiting plant to take over your garden trellises in the summertime, give this fun cucurbit a try. Armenian cucumbers, also called snake cucumbers or yard-long cucumbers because of their length (fruits can grow up to 3 feet long!) are actually a type of muskmelon. The fruits look like long and pale cucumbers, and the insides taste like non-bitter cucumbers.
These plants are popular in vegetable gardens in the Middle East thanks to their tolerance of heat and sun. They're super low-maintenance and vigorous. Plants in the cucumber and melon family don't like to be moved, so it's best to sow seeds directly as soon as the weather is warm.
I recommend growing them in a raised bed right next to a trellis so that the vines can grow vertically instead of sprawling over the soil. This keeps the plants healthier and saves garden space. While you can certainly let the fruits grow long, they're best when picked at about 8 to 10 inches long.
If you're looking for a "true" cucumber, try growing suyo long cucumbers. They thrive in heat but like some afternoon shade.
It's fruits like these that make summer gardening so fun!
Learn more about growing cucumbers in the garden.
Arugula Is the Best Leafy Green to Grow in Hot Climates
When I first moved to Houston, I felt almost despondent over the climate being too warm to grow spinach and lettuce for so much of the year. Then I noticed some of my neighbors growing arugula, even when the temps were above 95 degrees. I soon learned you can grow arugula year round in warmer climates. It comes from a family of plants that love cool weather, but arugula really isn't very picky about the temps. It can even handle some frost.
I recommend planting arugula when the temperature is still below 90°F. A mature plant will be able to better withstand higher temps than a seedling. If you must plant in June or July, use a shade cloth or plant arugula where it will be in the shadow of a larger plant like eggplant or peppers. Sow seeds frequently so that you can pull plants once they're past their prime but still have garden-fresh arugula.
This is a great small plant to fill in empty spaces around larger plants growing in your raised-bed garden. You can plant as many as 16 arugula plants per square foot.
Few other plants can stand the heat quite like this little green, and this characteristic alone makes arugula a must-have when you’re missing that garden-fresh taste of salads in the hottest months of the year.
Learn more about planting and harvesting arugula.
Basil Is One of the Best Heat-Tolerant Container Plants
Basil is a low-maintenance plant that can take the heat. I mean, it's from the sunny Mediterranean, right? Basil is also one of the easiest herbs to grow from seed. You can sow basil seeds after your last frost of the season and enjoy fresh basil leaves all summer long.
Basil can grow just about anywhere—an in-ground flower bed, a container, a raised bed, even a pot on a sunny windowsill. Just try to give this herb some afternoon shade when temps spike over 90°F.
Thai basil and African blue basil are two basil types with beautiful flowers that are absolute bee magnets. Our hungry little pollinators will thank you for growing these come the hottest of summer days.
Learn more about growing your own organic basil.
Cotton Loves Hot Summer Weather
Fun fact: cotton comes from the same plant family as okra and hibiscus—the Malvaceae family. Plants in this family can really take the heat, and they're great for those of you who have a long hot season. I say long because these are large plants that often need 100+ days to harvest. So, don't try to grow cotton unless you have a hot summer with temps regularly 85°F or higher for several months.
Cotton plants grow well in the ground, so I would save your raised bed space for edible plants, which tend to be pickier.
Back when we lived in Houston, my family and I had so much fun growing cotton over the never-ending summers. It was pretty magical to watch the cotton form on the plants and let my kids pick it and pull it apart to find the seeds. If you like to have new experiences or learn more about how agricultural staples are grown, cotton should be top on your plant list this summer!
Crowder Peas Are Heat-Loving Plants
We're fortunate to have peas and beans from Central America and South Asia that thrive in temps over 85°F. This includes crowder peas, also called field peas, black-eyed peas, purple hull peas, yardlong beans, and lima beans. These plants are super productive and will protect your soil through the hottest part of the year.
Peas and beans are best when direct sown in the garden space once the temperature is right. Check whether you have a bush or pole variety. Pole beans and peas will need to be planted next to a sturdy trellis so that they can climb.
We grow most of these to eat dried since they're a little tough fresh. All you have to do is let the pods dry on the vine and then soak them when you're ready for yummy black-eyed peas on New Year's Day for luck!
Learn more about how to grow your own peas and beans.
Eggplant Tops the List of the Best Plants for Hot Weather
Eggplants are one of the easiest fruits to grow in the garden, even in hot climates. They're related to tomatoes (they both come from the Solanaceae family), but they're way more tolerant of heat than their cousins. In fact, their optimum growing temperatures range from 70°F to 90°F, and they can continue to produce fruit when the temps are well above that.
You'll start your eggplant plants by seed about 6 to 8 weeks ahead of moving them into the garden. Don't move them outdoors until the weather is consistently above 80°F during the day to ensure the soil is warm enough.
Eggplants don't need a trellis, but they do benefit from some kind of support like a stake and twine to hold them upright when they're producing. Eggplant plants can grow to be 4' or 5' tall. The hardest part about growing eggplant is just being patient. Your first harvest will be about 70 to 90 days away.
Find more tips for growing your own eggplant.
Ginger Is One of the Most Heat-Tolerant Plants
Ginger is a tropical plant that originated in Southeast Asia and can honestly say it loves heat and humidity. The part we eat is a rhizome that grows and spreads sideways underground. Instead of planting ginger from seed, you plant a sprouted piece of the rhizome so that it can turn into a plant and produce more little rhizomes.
If you've got a really long hot season, you can plant ginger outdoors once your nighttime temps are above 55°F. Otherwise, you can sprout a rhizome indoors and then move it out once the weather is warm.
Ginger should be planted in your landscape or native plant and pollinator space, not in your raised bed, because it will become a huge bush aboveground. The leaves of ginger can be used in teas while you're waiting on the rhizome to multiply itself underground.
Ginger and its cousin in the Zingiberaceae family, turmeric, are really fun to grow over your warm and hot seasons.
Hot Peppers Are Heat-Tolerant Plants
Hot peppers might be called hot because they're spicy, but they can also hold their own in blazing temps outside. They're much more heat-tolerant than their tomato cousins and even other pepper varieties like bell peppers. Hot peppers include jalapeño peppers, shishito peppers, and serrano peppers. You can also grow sweet peppers like banana peppers and pimento peppers over the summer.
You can start peppers by seed indoors or direct sow them in the garden after your last frost. Peppers do really well in raised beds, but you can also grow them in a container at least 12 inches deep and wide. Make sure your container has a good drainage hole so that the roots don't sit in water. Like eggplants, peppers sometimes grow so big they need some support to keep them from falling over. I like to either grow my plants close to my obelisk trellis or use garden stakes and twine to hold them.
Peppers will produce fruit even in the 90s, but it's a good idea to use shade cloth over your peppers if temps are going to be over 95°F.
Learn more about growing peppers in your kitchen garden.
Luffa Gourds Make Great Plants for Summer
All right, here's a pretty bizarre plant for you. Luffa gourds. Yes, luffa like that luffa. The one you use in the shower, that's right. Didn't know it was from a plant, did you?
Luffa gourds grow on large vining plants that need more than 150 days to produce. While you can pick the fruits when they're still young and eat them the same way you would summer squash, most people let the fruits fully mature and then turn brown on the vine. After harvesting, you can peel the luffas to expose the fibrous tissues inside. Dry these in the sun for a few days, and you've got yourself an all-natural sponge!
If you don't have a really sturdy metal trellis in your garden, then you'll want to grow these plants in the ground and give their vines lots of room to spread out.
Malabar Spinach Grows Through the Hottest of Summers
This is a vining leafy green that most people don't know about. It's not actually related to our normal spinach plants—its leaves are way more succulent-like—but it's still full of nutrition. You can use the leaves in soups, salads, and smoothies. Growing this plant is a great way to enjoy garden-fresh greens even in the middle of summer.
You can grow Malabar spinach in your raised bed or in a large container with an obelisk trellis for it to climb.
Even if you don't love the spinach-like flavor of these leaves, this is a really easy and beautiful plant to grow from seed and train up your trellises.
Learn more about growing Malabar spinach in your garden.
Marigolds Are Easy Flowers to Grow in a Summer Garden
These are one of my favorite flowers to add to in-ground beds, containers, or raised beds over the summer. Not only are marigolds beautiful, they are super hardy and drought tolerant. You could go on vacation in the middle of July and leave these plants in the bright sun without a water source for weeks, and you'll come back to find them looking as cheerful as ever.
Marigolds are super easy to grow from seed, so save your money and skip past those little marigold pots at the store. I like tucking marigolds around the edges of my raised beds because they both attract beneficial insects and repel pests—pretty amazing!
If you're growing marigolds in containers, make sure your container has a drainage hole.
Melons Make Great Plants for Summer
If a plant can grow in a wide-open field in the middle of summer in Texas, it's probably pretty heat tolerant. This is not the case for all melons but certainly for watermelons and honeydew melons, which are both accustomed to hot temps.
Keep in mind that a plant that grows fruit as large as a watermelon is obviously going to be pretty large itself. You can still grow these large melons in a raised bed if you'd like; just plant them on the edge so that the vines can cascade over the side and have all the space they need. That way, the roots of your melon plant can still benefit from the depth and good drainage of the raised bed. I don't recommend growing these vertically since the melons will be too heavy for the vines to try to hang onto a trellis.
If you prefer to grow your melons in the ground, make sure to give each plant plenty of space to sprawl.
At the end of a long, hot summer, the juice from a fresh melon will be all the sweeter for you having grown it yourself!
Okra Is One of the Most Heat-Tolerant Plants You Can Grow
Okra comes from the same family as cotton and hibiscus. When okra plants produce their beautiful, tropical-looking flowers, that's when you can really see the family resemblance. If you're in a hot climate with temps that are regularly over 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity without any rain, okra is your new best friend.
Some of my favorite varieties of okra to grow include burgundy okra and Clemson spineless okra. While okra does great in the ground, it thrives in a raised bed if you have the room for it. Just keep in mind these plants will grow super tall, like 8 and 9 feet tall! You'll need a ladder at harvest time. The most important consideration when you're picking a growing location is lots and lots of sunlight.
Really, the most difficult part about growing okra is just keeping your plants picked once they start producing. This is a daily activity peak season. You want to grab pods when they're about 3 to 4 inches long. Don't wait until your okra pods are impressively long because they'll be too starchy to enjoy. It's like trying to eat cardboard!
Learn more about growing okra in your vegetable garden.
Oregano and Other Herbs in the Mint Family Can Push Through the Summer Months
Oregano, mint, rosemary, sage, and thyme are all in the same family. These herbs can survive super hot summers if they're given some afternoon shade and kept watered.
Even though these herbs are all cousins to basil, they're a little different in their needs. These are perennials that are often slow to grow from seed. It's best to source a well-grown perennial herb from the store in the spring so that it can get established before the heat of the summer. Head out in the early morning to harvest delicious, homegrown leaves!
One of the most heat-tolerant herbs in this family is a fun little plant called Cuban oregano (and sometimes Mexican mint). It smells a bit like oregano and looks like a mint plant with large, fuzzy, succulent-like leaves. This plant can really take the heat, and it will eventually produce beautiful flowers in white, pink, or purple.
Roselle Is a Heat-Tolerant Flower for Summer Planting
I first discovered roselle when I was searching for creative things to grow in the hot season when we lived in Houston. Roselle hibiscus, AKA red sorrel and Jamaican sorrel, is in the same family as okra and cotton. That's how you know it can take the heat. This plant actually won't even germinate until soil temperatures are at least 75°F.
You can really see the similarity to the okra plant and even to hibiscus plants when roselle produces its gorgeous tropical-looking flowers. These red blooms can be made into tea. Some cultures around the world prize the leaves of this plant, which taste a bit like spinach but with a spicy punch.
Roselle plants can live for several years in your garden space if you don't get hard freezes during the winter. Otherwise, you'll replant it each year. It grows pretty easy from seed sown directly in the garden. Once it grows large, use stakes and twine to support it, and make sure to give it plenty of space to bush out.
This is a great flowering plant to grow to get blooms that last for many months.
Sweet Potatoes Are the Perfect Summer Crop to Plant Before Going on Vacation
Sweet potatoes like their weather hot, hot, hot, like over 85°F hot. The part we eat is the tuberous root that grows underground while the plant itself produces lots of lush green growth above ground.
Sweet potatoes are grown from slips, which are the sprouts that grow from the little eyes. Each little slip becomes a plant that takes up a massive amount of space. That's why I recommend growing sweet potatoes outside of your raised beds, right in the ground. Otherwise, it's best to devote an entire raised bed to growing these plants. Plant no more than one slip per 2 square feet. Each plant should produce five to six tuberous roots.
This is actually a great option if you're going away on summer vacation or won't be able to tend the garden for several weeks because these plants can pretty much take care of themselves. The vines will cover the soil and do their thing while you're doing your thing.
This is a great one to grow during a long hot season for tons of production.
Learn more about growing sweet potatoes.
Tomatillos Make Great Summer Plants
Tomatillos are a bit like their tomato cousins but with two notable differences: Tomatillos can thrive well into the heat of summer, and tomatillo fruits grow inside papery husks. The good news is, if you know how to grow tomatoes, then you can find success growing tomatillos.
These fruiting plants come from Mexico and Central America, so they're used to setting fruit in high temps. The key thing to get fruit is just to grow two tomatillo plants near each other so they can cross pollinate. It also helps if you plant them by early June to ensure roots are well established for the heat and possible drought of late summer.
Tomatillo plants are pretty large; they're like a cross between vining tomatoes and bushy pepper plants. It's best to give them a small trellis to support their growth.
Unwrapping your little tomatillos at the end of a hot summer will feel like opening a present for making it through!
Vinca Flowers Are Perfect for a Summer Garden
Angelonia, marigolds, and vincas (also called periwinkles) are the superstar flowers for summer gardens in the south.
These pretty little flowers are so hardy. You can grow them on the edges of your raised beds or in the ground throughout the spring, summer, and fall. They'll attract pollinators and make your kitchen garden space so colorful and vibrant.
Zinnias Are the Best Flowers to Grow in Hot Climates
Zinnias are one of my favorite flowers to grow, and once you've grown them, they'll become your favorites too. They're absolute floral showstoppers that thrive on neglect and attract so many beneficial insects to your garden.
Zinnias are incredibly easy to start from seed, bloom from early summer until your first frost, and will grow under so many conditions. I've had zinnia flowers pop up from seeds dropped the previous year in a gravel walkway and grow beautifully without any extra water.
Zinnias prefer full sun, even in July and August. If you don't have a spot that receives 8 to 10 hours of sun, your zinnia plants will still grow, but you won't get as many blooms as you would if they were in full sun. These blooms make great cut flowers and are also edible.
Learn more about growing zinnias from seed.
Time to Do Some Summer Planting
Take heart that there are so many fun, beautiful, and delicious things you can grow even when it feels like an inferno outside.
Thanks for being here and helping to make gardening ordinary again!
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