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Think You Can’t Have a Summer Vegetable Garden? It’s Not Too Late

Radishes, yellow summer squash, and red and yellow chard.
Burpee/Seeds of Change/Ohio Heirloom Seeds

Most people think of planting seeds, especially for vegetable gardens, as a strictly springtime activity. You have to start growing your seedlings as soon as the ground thaws if you want to reap your harvest before wintertime, right?

As it turns out, this isn’t necessarily the case—at least, not for all produce. As your favorite gardening books will tell you, there are quite a few fast-maturing or cold-tolerant vegetables that you can plant in early or mid-summer to enjoy a late summer or autumn harvest.

Radishes

Two bunches of freshly dug up radishes.
Generic

Crispy and crunchy and slightly spicy, radishes are a tasty and versatile vegetable. They also mature very quickly, making them an ideal choice to plant during the summer—perhaps even more so, as harvesting radishes at the height of the summer heat may adversely affect their flavor and smell. Varieties labeled as “winter” radishes, like Daikon or watermelon radishes, do especially well when planted in early to mid-summer.

How to plant: Find a spot that sees at least six hours of sunlight a day, away from fruits or vegetables or flowers with hanging leaves that will create shade. Till the soil with a garden rake, shovel, or spade to loosen it up for better drainage and get rid of any rocks. If you’re planting in clay soil, mix in some extra fertilizer or organic matter (preferably one low in nitrogen) to further increase its drainage properties. Space the holes about an inch apart from each other, bury the seeds about half an inch deep, and cover them with loose soil.

When will radishes blossom? Within four to six weeks of planting. You’ll know they’re ready for harvesting when the leaves are tall and green, and the top of the radishes peeking out of the soil.

How to care for radishes: The more moist and well-drained the soil, the more your radishes will thrive, so be prepared to water them consistently, perhaps even daily. If you live in a very dry area, mulching radishes is a great way to ensure they receive even, consistent moisture. Radishes also hate crowding, so be sure to weed your plot regularly. Thinning the radishes’ greens a little bit around the soil line, once they’re around 2 inches tall (usually about a week after planting), will also help ensure your radishes don’t crowd each other.

Ideal USDA growing zones: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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Chard

Two bunches of rainbow Swiss chard.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac

Greens are known to be quite heat-sensitive, but there are some types that grow equally well in warm and cool temperatures, chard included. Also known as Swiss chard, both the stems and leaves are edible, whether raw or cooked. It’s loaded with vitamins, the taste is mild and less bitter than other greens like kale, and the bright colors will be a lovely addition to your garden, salad, or quiche. Rainbow chard is always a good bet for a summer planting, though pretty much any variety will thrive if planted early to mid-summer.

How to plant: Find a spot for your chard seeds that gets at least partial sunlight, though full sunlight is preferable if possible. The soil should be well-drained, fertile, and slightly acidic to neutral. Mix in some aged compost or manure if you’re worried about your soil’s fertility levels. The holes should be between half an inch and an inch deep, spaced 2 to 6 inches apart from each other.

When will chard blossom? Chard will take 40 days or so to blossom; most varieties are resistant to mild frost, so don’t worry about them growing into the fall. If you want your chard to grow faster, soak the seeds in water for 24 hours before planting. You’ll know a chard plant is ready to harvest when it’s 6 to 8 inches tall, though some may grow as high as a foot and still be eaten. And if you’re careful not to cut the plant’s center while harvesting, your chard will continue to produce new leaves.

How to care for chard: Your chard seedlings will do best if they’re given consistent, even watering. Mulching helps to maintain appropriate moisture in dryer climates or during a drought. If your chard is sprouting smaller than you like, don’t be afraid to add a balanced fertilizer to its garden bed halfway through its growing session. Overgrown chard leaves are less flavorful, so if your plants are starting to overlap, trim the leaves with scissors. (The cuttings are edible, so they need not go to waste.)

Ideal USDA growing zones: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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Summer Squashes

Zucchini plant next to a yellow squash planting being harvested.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac/Burpee

Summer squashes love warmth and are a great way to add variety to your garden, as they’re available in multiple different shapes, sizes, and varieties. The nice thing about summer squashes is that the skins are edible, unlike winter squashes such as butternut or acorn squash. Zucchini, crookneck squashes, and yellow squash (also known as straightnecked squash) are all great summer squash varieties you can plant now. In fact, planting them in mid-summer is a great way to avoid certain pests and diseases.

How to plant: The soil for your summer squash seeds should be moist but not soggy, well-draining, and nutrient-rich. If possible, mix your soil with aged manure or compost before you plant your seeds. The garden bed should have access to full sunlight and be sheltered from winds, as summer squashes grow in bush rather than vine form. You can sow your seeds either in level ground, in 1-inch holes spaced 2 to 3 inches apart, or clump three to four seeds close together in small mounds.

When will summer squashes blossom? Most summer squashes will mature within 60 days of planting; check the seed packets for specifics. Once your summer squash has sprouted its flowers, it should be ready to harvest within a week or so. Smaller squashes have more flavor, so cut them off the plant when they’re between 6 to 8 inches long.

How to care for summer squashes: Summer squashes love water, so be sure to water them thoroughly and regularly; it’s hard to overwater them. Daily waterings or soakings may be necessary in the summer, especially in hotter and drier climates. Mulch is a great way to keep the roots cool and protected, and consider adding extra fertilizer on the side once the blooms appear. Summer squashes have shallow roots so be sure to diligently weed their plots.

Ideal USDA growing zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

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Cucumber

Cucumbers growing on the vine next to a sliced cucumber.
Purely Organic Products

Cucumbers are an excellent choice for summer plantings since they grow very quickly and love plenty of warmth. They grow in both vine and bush form, so you can choose whichever better suits your garden. Vining cucumbers are more prolific and do well when the vines have a trellis or fence to grow along. Bush-grown cucumbers, however, are better suited for smaller gardens or containers like planters.

How to plant: The more light and warmth your cucumbers receive, the better, so pick a garden bed that gets full sunlight—an absolute minimum of six hours of sunlight a day. The soil should be moist and fertile but not overly soggy, so good drainage is key. Use a spade or similar garden tool to mix in manure or compost with your soil before planting. If you live in a colder area, opt for a sandier soil as it’ll provide extra warmth to your cucumber plants. Plant your cucumber seeds about an inch deep. Vine-grown cucumbers should be spaced about a foot apart from each other.

When will cucumbers blossom? You should have full-grown cucumbers ready for harvesting within three or four weeks or so of planting. Depending on the type of cucumber, the vegetable can be picked once it’s somewhere between 4 and 10 inches long. As with squashes, smaller cucumbers will have more flavor, so pick them sooner rather than later. They’ll also continually produce more cucumbers once a plant has been harvested.

How to care for cucumbers: Be sure to water your cucumbers frequently, but try not to get the leaves wet when watering if possible. Organic mulching is generally beneficial to cucumbers; straw or chopped leaves are especially good choices. You may also want to cover seedlings with berry baskets or netting to keep pests away, especially with bush-grown cucumbers. If you planted vining cucumbers, the earlier you set up the trellises, the better.

Ideal USDA growing zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

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Beets

Two bunches of dark red and dark purple beets.
Gaea’s Blessing

You may think of beets as a more cold-weather vegetable, but they love sunlight, so they actually make for great summer-planted vegetables, especially since they can yield harvests well into the fall, due to their ability to hold up to early frosts and near-freezing temperatures. The green tops are edible, too. Just be sure to pick bolt-resistant beets for summer plantings or a variety that is slow to bolt—“bolting” means they mature too quickly, which isn’t generally a good thing for beets in warm weather.

How to plant: Beets aren’t as fussy about their soil as some other vegetables as long as they receive at least six hours of sunlight a day. Fertile soil is ideal, but they will tolerate less fertile soils as well if your options are limited. That said, avoid acidic soils and be sure to use a rake or similar tool to clear the holes rocks to ensure proper rounded growth. The holes should be about a half-inch deep, spaced 1 to 2 inches apart.

When will beets blossom? On average, beets will be mature and ready to pick within two months or so of planting; again, since beets are cold-tolerant, planting them in mid-summer isn’t an issue. The veggies themselves should be at least golfball-sized, if not larger. You may need to sacrifice one beet by digging it up to check the size.

How to care for beets: Be very careful when weeding, especially when the beets are young, as you don’t want to disturb the root vegetables. Regular watering is recommended and mulching may be beneficial, but you don’t have to use compost, manure, or fertilizer unless your beets are really, really struggling to grow. If you do opt to supplement your beets with fertilizer, avoid nitrogen-rich types as they’ll stunt your beets’ growth.

Ideal USDA growing zones: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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Herbs

Basil and dill plants growing in a garden.
Sow Right Seeds

Many people love to keep their own herb gardens at home to save money at the grocery store or to always ensure they have fresh-picked herbs on hand to flavor food or garnish cocktails. Basil and dill in particular are good for outdoor early or mid-summer planting as they love heat, grow very quickly, and can even be planted at intervals all summer to yield more fresh-tasting herbs for a longer stretch of time.

How to plant: Basil and dill grown from seeds should be planted no more than 1/4 of an inch deep. Holes should be 10-12 inches apart, 16-24 for larger varieties. Both types of herbs do best in well-draining, neutral to slightly acidic, and fertile soil. Six to eight hours of direct sunlight is ideal for both plants, though basil can thrive in partial shade as well.

When will basil and dill blossom? You should see seedlings within a mere 10 to 14 days of planting. Basil is full-grown when it’s 12 to 24 inches high, but you can start harvesting leaves once your plants are at least six inches tall. Dill plants are fit for picking once they sprout four or five leaves. In the case of both herbs, if you only harvest the leaves and not the stalks, they’ll keep producing leaves all summer.

How to care for basil and dill: Be sure to water both types of herbs frequently. Avoid using chemical insecticides with herbs unless you plan to use them for something besides eating; you can use a natural pesticide or plant them alongside insect-resistant plants to keep bugs away. Plant them away from driveways and busy roads to avoid exhaust residue as well. Don’t plant dill near carrots either, as this root vegetable will make them less prolific.

Ideal USDA growing zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. 9, 10 for basil, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 for dill for summer growth.

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Despite what you may think, it’s not too late to start growing vegetables in your garden. As long as you cultivate each plant’s ideal growing conditions and water them properly, you can start planting now and still enjoy fresh produce and herbs in late summer through the fall.

Meghan Herlihy Meghan Herlihy
Meghan Herlihy is a full-time writer for LifeSavvy and has written across a wide variety of topics, genres, and formats, including radio talk shows, local sports journalism, and creative original fiction. She received her bachelor's degree in communications from Ithaca College and a master's in writing from Johns Hopkins University. When she's not writing, you're most likely to find her reading a book, petting every dog within eyesight, and indulging in her love of travel. Read Full Bio »
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