Waiting For Warmth: Gardening In A Cold Summer

After long, cold winters and wet springs, gardeners look forward to capitalizing on the warm summer months by enjoying beautiful blooms and abundant yields from the fruit and veggie patch. But what happens when the warmth never arrives? 

Unfortunately, this is shaping up to be one of those summers where people wish for better. Environment Canada admits it’s been an unusual spring in many parts of the country and that the weather patterns aren’t expected to improve very much over the next few months.

Where there’s been drought will remain dry; where it’s been wet, the rain will continue to fall.

Nasturtiums catching raindrops

In the provinces of Ontario and Quebec where millions of people live, it’s been hard to get a couple of days in a row without rain. Nights have been cold; much colder than many of our vegetable crops can handle.

The Weather Network predicts those two provinces will experience colder than average temperatures throughout most of the summer along with active storm systems.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts the western United States will experience a sweltering, dry summer, while the southern U.S. will have a wet and slightly cooler one. Mixed conditions are in the forecast across much of the Midwest and Northeast. 

Then again, the weather seems to change every ten minutes. They’re probably wrong. 

Soggy peppers
Soggy peppers

But What If They’re Right? 

Our gardens will suffer the consequences. Tomatoes and eggplants, for example, need consistently warm and humid conditions to do well. 

They’re very sensitive to stressors including fluctuating weather patterns and extreme temperatures (above 95°F or below 55°F). Seed germination and development of the plants will likely be delayed. According to Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening, by Matt Mattus, the result is almost always a weak fruit set.  

Tomatoes will drop their flowers when it gets too hot or cold, which make the pollen sterile. The same goes for peppers, beans, cucumbers, squash, melons, and so much more. 

Lush, green gardens but still no fruit
Lush, green gardens but still no fruit.

Too much water and cold air can cause crops to develop a condition called oedema in which blisters or bumps form on their leaves and stems. Luckily, plants almost always outgrow the minor damage. However, it’s essential to be on the lookout for more serious fungal diseases after a stormy period.

How To Cope

Not all hope is lost! There are ways avid gardeners can cope with a colder than normal summer and save their crops. 

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following:

  • Make sure heat-loving plants get a minimum of eight hours of sun per day so they can absorb as much warmth as possible. 
  • Cut back on the mulch. Straw and other materials are good for water retention and soil health, but leaving the earth bare and loosening it somewhat allows it to absorb more sunshine. Just be sure to keep watering! 
  • Adding 2-3 inches of compost around the base of your plants will enrich the soil, and its dark color will also attract more heat. 
  • Cover the soil with black or clear plastic to trap the heat inside. Once again, plastic will block rainwater from reaching the plants, so be sure to water by hand often.

For more interesting ways to protect your garden from the cold, including the use of agrotextiles, cold frames, and mini-greenhouses, read this article by Garden Culture Magazine’s Albert Mondor. He gives fantastic advice on extending the growing season in colder climates!  

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Catherine Sherriffs

Editor at Garden Culture Magazine

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her three young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.