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Some Like it Hot!

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Vegetables for hot weather - so Get Growing!

As the June temps rise, it’s time to consider planting your warm weather crops. Two “sweet” veggies that really need warm soils are sweet corn, and sweet potatoes or yams, 

If you haven’t tried to grow your own “slips” for sweet potatoes yet, you can purchase small baby yam or sweet potato plants this month. Here in our region, with cooler nights, sweet potatoes and yams do best when grown as a container plant, but they are certainly one of the most attractive trailing vine vegetables to grace your porch. 

All sweet potatoes need a long period of warm weather—choose varieties that only need 90 days to grow and choose a hot sunny spot to position a 5 gallon or larger medium size black bucket with quick draining, sandy loose potting mix. Sweet Potatoes and Yams need a long term soil temperature of 70 to 80 degrees, so mulches of black or red plastic over the top of your plant with a small slit for water to saturate the plant helps to trap the night heat in.  One big whiskey barrel size container can host 3-4 slips of sweet potatoes or yams.

Periodic deep waterings encourage larger potato growth. Side dress the plants with a slow release of organic  fertilizer that’s not high nitrogen or the tubers will not develop. Potassium and boron are important for the tubers’ development.  During their growth, the sweet potato vine cannot take even the slightest of frost. Pull the containers in for the night if you have to in late August and you will be rewarded with some treasures in September. Your signal for harvest is a slight yellowing of the foliage. After eight to ten weeks you can reap a harvest of small potatoes.

Sweet corn is another crop that likes warm weather—the hotter, the better!—and now is about the time to plant that corn in the ground. Soak your kernels for a day beforehand, and then plant in rows or hills—or try a traditional, three-sisters planting. Three sisters, said to be the way Native Americans planted corn, involves creating a hill of dirt, with corn planted in the middle. Climbing varieties of beans are planted around the corn, and squash or other melons around the beans. The beans will vine along the corn stalks as they grow, while the squash will shade the roots. You can google “three sisters garden” for detailed instructions. 

In order to properly pollinate, it’s generally recommended to plant a minimum of 5 rows of ten plants. And don’t mix the varieties!

Soil temps need to be at least 60 degrees for corn to grow. You can warm your soil by covering with black plastic, then creating holes in which to plant your seed. Sweet corn is what’s called a heavy feeder, which means it needs a lot of nitrogen to grow. Adding in well-aged manure to your dirt before planting will help, or use a commercial nitrogen boost available at your garden supply store.

When your corn reaches 12 to 18 inches (hardly ever a foot high by fourth of July here) fertilize again, and make sure you provide adequate water. Too dry and your corn cannot produce silks or ears. 

Other plants that grow best in the heat include eggplant, peppers, and okra. Just remember that all plants need water. Don’t rely on the occasional rainy day to water your garden. Depending on the temperature, your plants need a deep watering anywhere from once a week (temps in the 70s) to every other day (temps in the 90s). To know for sure, stick your finger into the dirt. If it’s dry down to a half inch, it’s time to water.

So when summer days heat up, keep your cool and remember that in your garden, some (plants) like it hot!


Nancy Hastings grew up on a 300+-acre farm and now is co-owner of All Seasons Garden and Floral in Sandpoint. She and her husband John have been cultivating community gardens and growing for 16 years in North Idaho. You can reach them with garden questions or sign up for classes at allseasonsgardenandfloral (at)gmail.com.

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Landon Otis

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gardening, Get Growing, vegetables, sweet corn, sweet potatoes

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