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Eight Tips for a Thriving Summer Garden

Updated: Jun 25

Row of red and pink zinnias.
Zinnias

Hello, friends! Last fall, I planted a variety of native wildflower seeds that have now grown into plants that I am attempting to keep alive this summer. Wish me luck!


I am a lazy, beginner gardener aiming for a wild, naturalistic garden vibe, so I decided to skip the garden bed preparation and instead, rolled the dice by sowing wildflower seeds along three sides of my rectangular backyard. The idea was to see what would happen and go from there.


The results have been mixed. Along one of the three sides, Black-eyed Susans, yellow Coneflowers, pink Evening Primroses, and purple Bachelor Buttons rapidly established themselves in thick clusters this Spring. Initially, the results looked wild and magical, which was exactly what I had hoped for. However, as the plants grew, they began crowding each other, making it more difficult to prune them. I also started worrying about snakes hiding beneath the thick, tall flowers. So now, I’m actively thinning out the clusters and trying to add some shape to the garden row.


At the end of the season, I’ll know which flowers can survive the brutal Texas summer. Then, I’ll mow everything down, edge the borders, and prepare the beds with mulch. Next year, I plan to use this experience to design my garden with more forethought.


In this post, I share the strategies I'm following to keep my plant babies alive and thriving throughout the Texas summer. While these tips are tailored to Zone 9A, where I live, they're universal and should be useful no matter which gardening zone you live in.


Black-eyed Susans and Coneflowers.
My wild garden.

Table of Contents:



 

Eight Tips for Successful Summer Gardening:


1. Choose the Right Plants


These are the factors I take into consideration when choosing plants:


  • Native and Adaptive Plants: These plants are excellent options because they are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions.

  • Water Needs: Consider the availability of water and the drought tolerance of the plants. For example, I live in Williamson County, which is frequently under water restriction during summer months when water consumption is high. So, it's important to me to choose plants that are drought tolerant. Plants that are native to the area I live in are more drought tolerant.

  • Heat Tolerance: Summers in Zone 9A are scorching, so choosing plants that can withstand hot temperatures is essential.

  • Soil Type: Understand your soil's properties (sandy, loamy, clay) and choose plants that will thrive in those conditions. There are a variety of ways to access your soil conditions. TBH, I'm no expert, and I skipped this step. This is possibly why seeds sprouted in only one of the three areas where I planted wildflower seeds. To learn more about the composition of your soil, start by simply observing the soil texture. Is it made of sand, clay, or dark organic matter? You can also contact local resources such as gardening clubs and nurseries.

  • Sun Exposure: Determine the amount of sunlight your garden receives and choose plants accordingly. Some plants need full sun, while others thrive in partial shade. Most of my garden plants are in my backyard. Before I decided which plants to choose, I observed the sun patterns in my backyard over the course of the day and noted when and where it was most sunny and most shady.

  • Maintenance Level: Consider how much time and effort you can invest in your garden because some plants require more care than others. I'm not a high maintenance garden kind of girl. My husband and I like to travel, so I choose plants that will be ok on their own for a few days when we're out of town.

  • Pest and Disease Resistance: Opt for plants that are resistant to common pests and diseases in your area.

2. Optimize Your Watering Schedule


  • Early morning watering is best, as it allows plants to absorb moisture before the heat of the day and helps minimize fungal growth. Deep, infrequent watering encourages roots to grow deeper and more resilient. Drip irrigation systems or soaker hoses can be particularly effective, delivering water directly to the roots and reducing evaporation. When using an irrigation system be sure to check your hoses for leaks and set a timer when watering so you don't waste water.


3. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch


  • Mulching is one of the best things you can do for your garden. A thick layer of mulch helps retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Mulch also helps keep your garden looking fresh and tidy longer. Organic mulches like straw, wood chips, or shredded leaves are great options. Apply a layer about 2-4 inches thick around your plants and be sure to keep mulch away from the stems to prevent rot.


4. Provide Shade for Sensitive Plants


  • While many summer plants love the sun, some may benefit from a bit of afternoon shade, especially during peak heat. Consider using shade cloths, garden umbrellas, or even strategically planting taller crops to provide shade for more delicate plants. This can help prevent sunburn and reduce heat stress.


5. Stay on Top of Pests and Diseases


  • Summer heat can bring an influx of pests and disease. Regularly inspect your garden for powdery fungal residue and common pests like aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies. You can remove some leaves or pests by hand if needed.


  • To encourage beneficial insects like ladybugs and bees, consider using organic pest control methods. My garden is not 100% organic. However, if it's a plant that I can eat, my dog can touch, or pollinators can feed from, I always use natural pest control methods like Neem oil. I bought the bottle below on Amazon.




6. Fertilize Wisely


  • Summer gardening can deplete soil nutrients quickly, so it’s important to feed your plants. Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to provide a steady supply of nutrients. Organic options like compost or well-rotted manure can also give your plants the boost they need to thrive during the hot summer months.


  • To ensure that I don't forget when to fertilize, I use the Planta app. Planta creates individual care schedules for each of your plants, sends reminders, and can help diagnose issues. There's both a free and paid version.



7. Harvest & Maintain Frequently


  • Many summer vegetables grow rapidly and can become overripe quickly in the heat. Check your garden daily, when you can, and harvest produce as soon as it’s ready. Regular harvesting not only provides you with fresh, delicious produce but also encourages plants to continue producing throughout the season. Deadhead flowers to encourage more blooms, prune as necessary to maintain plant health, and keep an eye out for signs of disease or stress. (Planta can remind you to do this, too!)


8. Plan for Succession Planting


  • In Zone 9A, the growing season is long enough to allow for succession planting. As soon as one crop is finished, plant another in its place. This can help you maximize your garden’s productivity and keep your harvest going strong through the summer and into the fall.



 

Coneflowers with a butterfly.
Coneflowers

The Benefits of Native and Adaptive Plants


Native and adaptive plants offer a multitude of benefits for your garden because they:


  • Adapted to Local Climate: They are naturally suited to the local weather conditions, making them more resilient to extreme temperatures and less dependent on water and fertilizers.


  • Support Local Wildlife: Native plants provide habitat and food for local wildlife, including pollinators like bees, butterflies, and birds.


  • Low Maintenance: Once established, native plants generally require less care than non-native species, saving you time and effort.


I used this website to find a native and adaptive plant guide for the Austin area. You likely can find a guide that's specific to your area through your local city government or nurseries.



Purple lantana.
Purple Lantana

Texas Zone 9A Native and Adaptive Plants that Flower All Summer


Adding a splash of color to your garden all summer long is easy with these Texas natives:


  1. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

  2. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

  3. Texas Lantana (Lantana urticoides)

  4. Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

  5. Mexican Sage Bush (Salvia leucantha)

  6. Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida)

 

Indian Blanket Wildflower
Indian Blanket Wildflower

Key Characteristics of a Naturalistic Garden


A naturalistic garden is a garden style that mimics natural ecosystems and looks like it could have developed organically without human intervention. This approach emphasizes the use of native plants, diverse plant communities, and a relaxed garden design. Here are some key characteristics and principles of a naturalistic garden:


  1. Native Plants: Naturalistic gardens primarily use plants that are native to the region.

  2. Biodiversity: These gardens feature a diverse mix of plants, including wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees. This diversity helps create a resilient ecosystem and offers a variety of habitats for wildlife.

  3. Informal Design: Naturalistic gardens have a more relaxed and organic layout. Plantings are often irregular and mimic the way plants grow in the wild.

  4. Seasonal Interest: Naturalistic gardens change with the seasons, providing year-round interest. Different plants bloom at different times, ensuring that the garden is always vibrant and dynamic.

  5. Sustainable Practices: Naturalistic gardening often involves sustainable practices such as composting, mulching, and using organic fertilizers.


Benefits of a Naturalistic Garden


  1. Environmental Sustainability: By using native plants and sustainable practices, naturalistic gardens conserve water, reduce the need for chemical inputs, and promote healthy soil.

  2. Wildlife Support: These gardens provide habitats for local wildlife, including insects, birds, and small mammals, contributing to biodiversity.

  3. Low Maintenance: Once established, naturalistic gardens often require less maintenance than traditional gardens. Native plants are adapted to the local environment and generally need less water, fertilizer, and care.

  4. Aesthetic Appeal: The beauty of a naturalistic garden lies in its wild and ever-changing nature.

Tips for Creating a Naturalistic Garden


  1. Include a variety of plant types (perennials, annuals, grasses, shrubs, and trees) to create a layered and dynamic landscape.

  2. Avoid straight lines and uniform plantings; instead, plant in drifts and clusters.

  3. Add features such as rocks, logs, and water elements to create habitats and add visual interest.

  4. Allow plants to self-seed and spread naturally. A naturalistic garden is not about perfection but about creating a balanced and harmonious ecosystem.


 

Zinnias with a monarch butterfly.
Zinnias in my backyard. Butterflies love these flowers!

Understanding Annuals vs. Perennials


Annual Plants:

  • Life Cycle: Complete their life cycle in one growing season.

  • Bloom Time: Often have longer blooming periods.

  • Examples: Zinnias, Marigolds, and Petunias.


Perennial Plants:

  • Life Cycle: Live for more than two years, coming back each season from their root systems.

  • Bloom Time: May have shorter blooming periods but come back year after year.

  • Examples: Black-eyed Susan, Peony, and Coneflower.


Incorporating a mix of both annuals and perennials can provide continuous color and interest in your garden throughout the seasons.


 

2023 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map


The United States Department of Agriculture updated their Plant Hardiness Zone Maps (PHZM) in 2023. To find out which Zone you live in, search the map using your zip code.


USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

Here are some of the regions in the United States that fall under Zone 9A:


USDA Hardiness Zone 9A encompasses regions with mild winters where the average annual minimum temperature ranges from 20 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.7 to -3.9 degrees Celsius).


Southern United States

  1. Texas: Parts of southern Texas, including areas around Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and the Rio Grande Valley.

  2. Louisiana: Coastal regions, including areas around New Orleans.

  3. Florida: Northern and central parts, including areas like Jacksonville, Orlando, and parts of the Tampa Bay area.


Southwestern United States

  1. California: Coastal and inland areas, including parts of the Central Valley, Los Angeles, and San Diego regions.

  2. Arizona: Southern parts, including areas around Tucson and Phoenix.


Southeastern United States

  1. South Carolina: Coastal regions and areas slightly inland, such as around Charleston.

  2. Georgia: Coastal regions, including Savannah and surrounding areas.


Pacific Northwest

  1. Oregon: Coastal areas and some parts of the Willamette Valley.


Other Notable Areas

  1. Nevada: Some southern parts, particularly around Las Vegas.

  2. Mississippi: Southern coastal areas, including around Biloxi and Gulfport.

  3. Alabama: Coastal regions, including Mobile and surrounding areas.


The specifics of local climates, such as humidity, precipitation, and soil types, can vary significantly within Zone 9A, influencing the choice of plants and gardening practices.


Let me know how your summer garden is coming along in the comments below. Happy gardening!


 

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