Help your crops take advantage of summer's heat while withstanding its intensity.

As summer heats up and the rains recede, the initial tasks of planting your garden give way to maintenance. Keeping your garden growing strong and healthy through the summer may not be as labor-intensive as those first few months, but it’s equally important.

Here are seven mid-season tasks to remember to help your plants thrive right to maturity.

1. Feed your plants.

By now most of your garden vegetables should be well established, with strong roots and a flush of early season growth. To keep things growing strong, it’s important to add a dose of organic fertilizer to give plants what they need for the long haul. Tomatoes, corn and potatoes will particularly benefit from mid-season applications.

Unlike chemical fertilizers, organic fertilizers take time to feed the soil and your plants. What you give them now will provide nutrition well into harvest time. You can also top-dress with compost if you have some: a hearty fertilizer and excellent soil conditioner on its own.

If any plants are struggling or need quicker access to nutrients, try a liquid fertilizer with a full spectrum of nutrients.

Using a liquid plant food concentrate helps get nutrients to the plants that need it most.

2. Continue watering deeply and evenly.

If you’ve already set up automatic or drip irrigation, your garden should be happy despite drier conditions. If you haven’t, now is the time. Watering down to root level is even more important as plants struggle with midsummer heat. Set your timer to water plants at intervals during the night, when evaporation is at a minimum. If you don’t have an irrigation system, water early in the morning for a similar effect.

3. Take care of weeds before seeds develop.

As temperatures heat up, more plants will develop seed heads that will, in turn, spread around your garden. Every minute you spend controlling weeds today will mean fewer down the road. Take ten to thirty minutes a day to tackle weeds taking root near garden plants or between rows.

Keep in mind as you do this that not all unwanted plants are weeds. Some shallow-rooted volunteers, like chickweed, purslane, miner’s lettuce and more, are edible delicacies themselves. Plus, they help keep the ground covered and inaccessible to more vigorous weed growth. Before you remove them, weigh carefully the cost of disturbing the soil in that area.

When you do pull weeds, disturb the soil as little as possible to avoid giving the seeds that have fallen fresh soil for germinating. Tackle deeply rooted weeds with a Cobra Head or other specialized weeding tool.

Cobra Head hand weeding tool

To remove deep-rooted weeds before they go to seed, try a hand tool like the Cobra Head Mini Weeder. Its sharp blade minimizes soil disturbance while acting as an extension of your hand.

4. Mulch plants and cover crop paths.

Full disclosure: I’m a fan of mulching because I’ve seen the results first-hand. Covering bare soil around garden plants with a layer of straw, leaves or grass clippings helps cool the soil, lock in moisture and control weeds. Plus, most mulch is free!

You can also sow a cover crop between garden rows to minimize weeding and add nutrients to your soil. I love microclover for this purpose because it is low maintenance and beautiful. Just remember to mow occasionally if you want to preserve the clover’s miniature leaves.

Related: Mulch Your Garden to Beat the Heat

5. Watch for pests and disease.

As plants develop and mature, pests can often move in. One day your kale is lush and leafy; the next, aphids have colonized its choicest stalks. Patrolling your garden regularly can help you catch pests before they take hold. Hand-picking the culprits is easiest when there are only a handful. Keeping your garden strong and vigorous is another defense.

As the season goes on, threats like spider mites or powdery mildew may start to appear. Don’t panic. In most cases, losses will be few. Remove affected leaves or plants and keep garden tools sterilized. Neem oil is an excellent, natural treatment to have on hand for many problems. See our natural pest control guide for more information on specific pests.

Pests have a harder time taking hold if you remove them early. Photo of cabbage moth by Yiju Cheng on Unsplash

6. Replant to fill any gaps.

Every plant package lists a seed germination rate. That’s the rate at which seeds successfully sprout and show themselves in your garden after planting. If you’re like most gardeners, you’ll end up with a few gaps in your rows mid-season where seeds have failed to sprout. Depending on the germination rate, that’s perfectly normal, but now’s your chance to fill in the gaps.

Check your seed packages to see if there’s time for your plants to mature before the first fall frost. If there is, go ahead and replant. If not, consider buying a few starter plants from your local nursery. If they don’t have any available, fill those planting gaps with quicker maturing crops. Lettuce, kale and broccoli are good options where afternoon shade is available. For full sun, radishes, carrots and bush beans are popular alternatives.

Replanting where seeds have failed to germinate gives you a second chance and a staggered harvest.

7. Harvest when the time is right.

How do you know when it’s time to harvest? This knowledge comes with experience, but most crops will reach maturity with a blush of color and flavor.

Tomatoes, and berries will be softer to the touch—less firm than early in the season. Beans and shelling peas will fill out their pods but not so much that they are woody or stringy. Tasting a few to be sure is one of the rewards of gardening!

As the season progresses, you may find yourself with too much bounty. That’s time to share with friends and family or preserve your harvest for the months to come.

Related: What to Do with All Those Tomatoes!

Mid-season gardening doesn’t come with the grunt work of spring, but it requires thoughtfulness and attention for your developing crop. Take the time to patrol your rows, observe your plants, give them what they need and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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