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Summer Gardening Guide for the Backyard Gardener

Discover the art of maintaining the perfect summer garden. This easy-to-understand summer gardening guide will keep your plants going strong all season.

A blue pumpkin is ready to be picked in this summer gardening haven.

It has been a rough gardening season already. Though most of my crops are thriving more than the previous year, I’ve run into a few small issues with my summer gardening.

That’s why I want to share what I’ve been learning, so you can be prepared and avoid some of the issues I’ve encountered as a beginner gardener. 

I’m still so thankful I’ve learned the skills that gardening requires, along with the virtue of patience. 

Plus, I have a pretty killer summer tan from being outside in the garden so much. 

We have Roma tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, several different berry bushes, a variety of pumpkins, cherry trees, and two kinds of peppers. All this along with flowers and herbs dotting the borders for added protection from pests (and to attract bees, wasps, and bird pollinator friends). 

Large yellow flowers bloom from a pumpkin plant and a bumblebee pollinates it over compost.

I have my hands full, even with the help of my husband, Adrian. 

But there is nothing more empowering than growing your own food. Creating something by hand, boycotting the broken food system, and learning the essential skills to survival are all noteworthy reasons to garden. 

Believe me, I don’t have a lot of land (we live in the suburbs), we don’t grow all our own food, and we’re not 100% self-sufficient. 

I will probably never be at that point ever

A raspberry bush climbs a trellis.

But if I can at least start on this path, this journey to self-sufficiency, then I feel like I’m really doing things with my life. If I can even grow one component of a dish for each of our meals, I’m investing in myself and not relying on the system around me. 

Now that you understand a little bit about the why’s of what I’m doing in my garden, maybe it’s time to explore the how’s. 

How to go about starting summer crops (and fall harvests in the summer), how to prevent pests, and how to do a few other important things for a successful summer garden. 

Let’s get into the summer gardening guide…

Summer Gardening Guide

Summer Planting Schedule & More

Since I only have experience with certain crops, I’ll only be outlining details about those–the ones listed below. For planting schedules with more specific charts for different zones, feel free to visit the Old Farmer’s Almanac HERE

Feel free to look those over for information on planting more than the crops I’ve listed below.

Melons, pumpkins, squash

A watermelon is ready to be harvest in a summer gardening haven in a suburban backyard.

I personally start pumpkins/squash anytime from the last frost date to about 90 days from the first frost date (here in the Midwest, that’s early July). Melons, on the other hand, require a longer growing season and should be started after the first frost date.

Squash, melons, and pumpkins are special because they really need their space. (Pumpkins in particular can take over an entire yard if you let them.) These are larger seeds and can easily be planted in any type of soil. 

A stunning pumpkin grows near flowering plants in a large summer gardening bed.

Sow them several feet apart, about ½-1” below the surface. Keep soil moist for the first couple weeks. Once established, water deeply about twice a week. Pumpkins only need about an inch of water a week to thrive. Trim them once a week to help them focus on the fruits instead of growing the vines. This will also help prevent powdery mildew. However, once melons begin fruiting water them less. They prefer dry weather and produce sweeter melons in this climate.

Add nasturtiums nearby to act as a trap crop to pests like aphids, squash bugs, and whiteflies. 

Tomatoes and peppers

Roma tomatoes are being held in a woman's hand.

Tomatoes and peppers grow successfully together, which is why I’ve grouped them. I plant them near one another (alongside marigolds) for this reason. They need similar growing environments which make them perfect companions. Start them after the first frost, as they both like hot temperatures and lots of sun to germinate and grow. 

The beginning of tomatoes grow on a tomato plant.

Since I garden in clay soil, I start them indoors first early in the season, or I start them outside in seed starting trays after the first frost. Then I transplant them after about three weeks. (Be sure to harden them off if you’re transplanting them after being indoors.) 

Since clay soil is so dense and heavy, it’s easy for tiny seeds like these to get lost. They need to be sowed near the surface (about ¼” deep), which is so hard to do in clay soil. If you have sandy soil or have raised beds with topsoil, this works much better for starting tomatoes and peppers. They need to be close enough to the surface to get enough light.

Flowers and herbs

Tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins and marigolds all share a garden bed.

Flowers and herbs are interplanted near vegetables and fruit trees in my yard, to attract pollinators and deter pests. In the past, I have often bought the plants at a nursery and transplanted once my vegetables were established. However, I have since learned it is much more affordable to start them by seed in a container in soil to later transplant (though you can skip the container if you have raised beds or looser soil). 

Every flower and herb is different. Some need to be sowed in the early spring during cooler temperatures, while others may need heat to germinate. Be sure to check frost dates in your region and follow instructions according to the flower or herb you are trying to grow. 

Most of my flowers, however, are summer flowers that require heat to germinate. For summer flowers sow seeds on the surface, lightly covered with soil. Keep them moist for a couple weeks until they’re established. 

Herbs line a path to a backyard garden.

Many herbs, on the other hand, prefer to be sown in the spring during milder weather, as early as March. Keep in mind, some herbs are perennials and will come back each year. This is something I look for when choosing herbs for my garden. Especially to keep around my berry bushes and fruit trees.

Fall planting in the summer months

If you want to plant another round of spring vegetables for fall harvesting, do this in mid- to late-summer, depending on your region. Spring vegetables grow well in cooler weather, which is great for another round before the approaching winter season. This is a great time to plant more lettuce, spinach, carrots, or fall crops such as pumpkins. July and August are common months to start sowing these.

Two white pumpkins grow alongside one another in  a summer garden.

Summer Gardening Tips

Take advantage of starting seeds indoors early in the spring. 

It will allow you to harvest crops for longer durations and get ahead of the growing season. If you don’t have a greenhouse, use an extra bench in the kitchen or a small table in an office to start a few seeds indoors in the spring. This can be done near a window, or for more predictable outcomes, a timed plant light. 

I bought this one HERE about a year and a half ago and it works wonderfully. I set the timer and it does the rest. I’ve even gone on vacation for several days and utilized this light source during that time. Just be sure not to forget about watering, too.

Marigold seedlings begin to sprout from their container pots.

Don’t be afraid to utilize patio space, including containers, for gardening. 

I underestimated how much I could fit into the landscaping around our patio. Many people go for flowers around the patio because of their beauty. Vegetables flower, too, though. It only makes sense to use this same space for vegetables or berry shrubs. You can interplant flowers with them for even more vibrance.

Chive blossoms blossom on top of chives ready to be harvested.

Start planning and ordering supplies in January and February. 

Planning will help your garden thrive. Preparation is the key to preventing many issues. Plus, you’ll have everything on hand to begin the garden in the first place. This is especially important to plan your garden beds early if your garden is large or if you’re rotating crops each year (which you should be). 

Invest in a water irrigation system when you start to get really serious about gardening. 

My garden just keeps growing. And although I water deeply, every 3-4 days, it takes so much time to tackle this chore. I will say I have to water less often, which saves time, but I end up taking 45 minutes to water it all deeply. If you have other chores to be doing (or aren’t about all the heat), it’s best to invest in a cheap irrigation system for the garden. This is definitely on my garden to-do list for the future. 

Pest Prevention

Companion planting

The best way to get rid of pests is not to get them in the first place. I love to plant marigolds, hot peppers, spearmint, chives, and onions near certain plants to keep pests away. They hate certain scents and won’t go near plants they love if they are around. I’m particularly excited to use nasturtiums as trap plants. I’ve heard so many good things about them. Certain flowers will even attract predators that eat pests, too! Another reason to plant flowers and herbs nearby.

Green onions have been planted near a blueberry bush to deter some pests.

Organic pesticides

I am not a fan of pesticides, even organic ones. They tend to be pretty hit or miss. They can be costly and there’s always some risk to using them. I have used them on occasion on flower bushes, but I have otherwise not been a huge fan. I am currently experimenting with using neem oil on some hydrangea bushes, but I don’t have results on that one yet. My only word of advice is to do your research beforehand. Make sure you are not just throwing your money out the window.

Other natural methods

One of my least favorite methods, which is tedious but necessary in some instances, is to hand pick certain pests from plants. Japanese beetles and squash bugs are the two pests that are notorious for sticking around no matter what. My pumpkins and grapes will tell you so. 

Fill a large glass jar full of water with a teaspoon of soap in it. Hand pick them off, whether it’s flicking them or cutting a leaf and submerging it into the jar. The water drowns them and the soap prevents them from getting out of the water. A terrible way to go, but it’s them or my garden. And I’ve worked much too hard on this garden to let it go over a few stubborn pests.

Lastly, introduce certain predators to the mix to eat the pests disturbing your garden. For example, lacewings and ladybugs can be purchased to release in your garden to eat certain pests. Or you can plant flowers that attract wasps and ladybugs who will gladly keep the pest population down in your yard. I haven’t tried this yet, but I am excited to try it one day…

Cantaloupe grows in a summer garden.

More Gardening Inspiration

What I Learned From Gardening in Clay Soil  

How to Start Composting

Beginner Gardening Tips  

The Best Garden Tools for Beginners  

How to Make an Indoor Succulent Garden

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