5 Summer Gardening Tips: How to Protect Plants from Extreme Heat

Father and son in the backyard gardening

If you live anywhere in the United States, at least a few weeks of summer heat and hot weather are almost inevitable. When we get hit with an extreme heat wave, plants can really bear the brunt of the high temperatures, especially if they’re sensitive. 

If you’re hoping to protect your garden from the summer sun, here are a few tips to help you avoid damage to your flowers and outdoor plants and protect them from the worst of the heat. 

What is the ideal temperature for plants?

If you’re trying to figure out the optimal temperatures for your plants, it’s all about knowing your growing zone. The USDA breaks the continental United States down into plant hardiness zones 2-10. Zone 2 is found in the northernmost, coolest area of the U.S., while zone 10 is in the southernmost regions like Florida, New Mexico, Texas, and California.  

Knowing your agricultural zone will help you select plants that are hardy enough to withstand most normal temperature ranges for your area. Most plants in the United States thrive in temperatures between 59 and 86° F. However, during times of extreme heat (or cold), you may need to take additional steps to protect the plants in your garden bed. 

Other considerations include the type of soil, precipitation, and biological threats like fungal diseases and pests. One of the easiest ways to avoid damage to your plants is to select plants native to your region. These tolerant plants are often friendly to local pollinators and can thrive in your particular climate region. 

Signs of Damaged Plants from Heat

Person holding the leaf of a wilting garden plant

Even if you select native and local plants that thrive in your hardiness zone, you may still get a sudden heat wave in those dog days of summer. There’s nothing quite as unpredictable as the weather, but if you have extreme heat in the forecast, there are a few ways to check your plants for damage so you can intervene.

Signs of extreme garden heat distress in plants include:

  • Wilting
  • Leaf cupping or rolling
  • Dropped buds and flowers or lack of new growth
  • Dry edges and sunburn

Look at the leaves to get the first signs of heat damage. If you notice any of the signs, there are several steps you can take to protect plants during a heat wave and extreme temperatures. Here’s how to protect plants from the sun.

Move Pots Planters to Shade

Woman repotting and moving some of her plants to pots

It may seem like the most obvious answer, but if your container plants are suffering from sun damage and extreme temperatures, the wisest step is to move them into a shady spot away from full sun exposure. Now, in general, it’s not a good idea to transplant stressed plants by digging them up with a shovel and moving them to another spot in the yard. But if you have pots and planters that are easily moveable, the best thing to do is to take them to another location out of direct sunlight. 

Often, the north side of your home will get the least amount of sun. The east side will get a lot of light in the morning, and the west side will get more of the afternoon rays. South-facing gardens get the most sun, especially in the middle of the day. However, if you have trees, neighbors, or other structures on your property, other spots may get shade even during the sunny afternoon.

If pots and container gardens look droopy and show signs of heat stress and sun damage, relocate the pots and planters somewhere else in your yard to get some temporary shade. Put them under the protective eaves of a porch, patio, or overhang and give them a nice long drink. It may be enough TLC to revive them quickly.

Add Mulch Around Plant Roots

Close-up of a caged tomato plant with mulch on top of the soil

Garden plants can dry out during extreme heat, and the roots become damaged. The best way to protect plants from high temperatures is to add a nice layer of mulch around their vulnerable stems at the base of the plant. Mulch helps keep the moisture in the soil. You'll need to water plants less often—even when it's very hot and dry.

Which mulch should you choose? While you may assume it's a matter of aesthetics, the mulch's color actually matters in keeping your plants cool. Lighter mulches will keep the soil surface (and the underlying plants and roots) cool. 

You can buy bags of bark mulch or use dried grass clippings after mowing the lawn. Lighter-colored straw mulch is also a good choice to help protect plants under hot conditions. While straw or grass mulch might not be as eye-catching as bark mulches, they can still get the job done during extra warm periods. 

Use a hand rake to keep soil around your plants loose, too. Hard, compact soil won’t absorb rain and water as well as looser, tilled soil can. If you want the water to reach the roots of your plants, take steps to create better soil health to support plant growth.

Water your Plants in the Early Morning

Close-up of a person watering their garden plants with a garden hose attachment

When it's hot outside, you'll want to give plants plenty of water and check for dry soil. As temperatures heat up, plants dry out, causing tell-tale symptoms like rolling, crunchy plant leaves and droopiness. It's especially problematic if there's been very little rainfall. Even if you have a sprinkling system, you may need to offer plants an extra drink, and the best time for that is in the early morning.

If you use a sprinkler, keep in mind that wind and heat can lead to evaporation as the water moves through the air. You’ll use less water if you run water systems in the cooler mornings or evenings. If you’re watering by hand, try to go out in the early morning or at the end of the day. You’ll also use less water if you target your watering to the specific needs of each plant.

You could use a soaker hose to water during extreme heat or install a drip irrigation system. The advantage of soaker hoses is that the water doesn’t evaporate, and plants get a drink straight at the roots where they really need it. You'll also use less water, which is helpful if your area faces water restrictions during hot temperatures and drought conditions.

Using Shade Cloth or Covers

Shade cloths and covers are a great way to protect young plants from the sun. These shade structures create a little extra protection for your vulnerable plants. You can look at the description on the shade cloth to see how much sunlight it will block (shade factors can vary by material). You may want to research the needs of your plants before purchase so you’re sure they’re getting enough sunlight during the growing season.

Be sure to place shade cloths to block the sun while allowing air and water to circulate. Putting the fabric too close to the plant can damage the leaves and lead to mildew, mold, and fungi growth. Row covers are a similar solution that protects plants from pests and the sun. If you're growing vegetables, herbs, or other flowers appealing to rabbits, birds, and wild animals, row covers can keep them away. 

Shade clothes and covers can help with water retention and soil moisture. This extra protection will keep your plants strong during excessive heat in the summer months.

Choose Hearty Plants and Plant Wisely

Overlooking a flower garden center

One of the best ways to protect plants during extreme temperatures is to select plants that are right for your area and climate. Plan your garden carefully—some plants might not thrive in your particular area and can become very high maintenance even with mild temperature fluctuations.

Look for plants that are appropriate for your zone. Choose plants with watering requirements that don’t feel like a chore to keep up with. When you put plants in, consider the location of your beds and the surrounding structures, trees, shrubs, and other items.

Keep in mind that younger plants struggle the most in extreme temperatures. Older, more established plants will likely handle a heat wave or a cold snap. Wait to put in plants until you're sure the threat of freezing temperatures has passed, but get them in with enough time to settle in before mid-summer sunshine.

Keep Your Garden Healthy with Do it Best

Woman in her backyard tending to her raised garden beds

No matter the temperature outside, you can keep your flowers and plants flourishing with some help from your local Do it Best. We have all the garden supplies you need for a beautiful, healthy garden. If you’re wondering how to protect plants from extreme heat, we’ve got you covered. 

Whether you prefer blooms or veggies, use native plants that thrive in your heartiness zone. Be sure to plan around the sun's location to take advantage of natural shade. Move baskets and pots onto the porch or into shadier areas when it gets hot, and remember to mulch around plants and use shade covers as needed.

While heat waves are challenging for plants and people alike, keep your cool with a few smart gardening tips from Do it Best. Just because temperatures are climbing doesn’t mean you should give up on your garden. With some sound strategies, you can have a green garden all summer long. 


Best Indoor & Outdoor Mosquito Killer Products

Spend more time outdoors without worrying about pesky bug bites

Learn more

Snowblower Buying Guide: Spend Less Time Shoveling

Learn how to pick the best type of equipment to fit your needs

Learn more

Best Pressure Washer Buyer's Guide

Get the right option to clear away grime for your next DIY cleaning project!

Learn more

Wheelbarrow Buying Guide

Helpful tips to make sure you buy the right one to meet your project's needs

Learn more

Beginner’s Guide to Backyard Bird Feeding

Tips and tricks for attracting beautiful feathered friends all year long

Learn more