MASTER GARDENERS: Changing July chores!

By Debbie Roland and

Emmy Ulmschneider

Master Gardeners

Back in 2020, the Permian Basin Master Gardeners put out a gardening calendar which featured pictures of Master Gardener gardens and a list of garden chores for the month. I still have mine and look at it each month to refresh my gardening memory. As I look back over the calendar for July chores, it made me wonder: Would I change any of the monthly chores? Is that calendar “out of date?” And the answer is perhaps and that is because of changing growing conditions.

We have written previously about the USDA change in hardiness zones, and also about the amount of rain and temperature increases we have seen recently. 2011-2020 was the second driest 10-year period since 1931. And it has been hotter lately. From 2000-2023, we have experienced six of the ten hottest days on record and some of the longest hottest periods since records were kept starting in 1931.

I know that in my own garden I see changes in the types and timing of the native and food plants I am growing. I have lost two long time native shrubs, one to increased heat and one to increased cold. My 12-year-old fig tree almost succumbed to Winter Storm Uri and has come back more as a bush than the climbable tree it was. When I look at the 2020 July chores, I find that I am using shade cloth on all my gardens starting way before July, mulching heavily during the growing season, and changing my watering schedule. I am also starting to experiment with companion gardening partly using taller plants to shade lower growers remembering to pair compatible plants together.

Another strategy for hotter summer gardens is to grow produce more compatible to our area; and that means growing more tropical and subtropical crops. During our most recent Texas Master Gardener Conference, Skip Richter, a retired Texas AgriLife Horticulture Extension Agent gave a talk on vegetables choices for, as he put it, blazing hot summer gardens, noting that as conditions change, there will be fewer options for traditional summer vegetables.

He then went on to introduce little-known vegetables that thrive in blazing hot temperatures. Okra, southern peas, and long beans were on the list as well as several tropical and sub-tropical summer greens. I have grown only one of these tropical greens, Malabar spinach which is native to tropical Asia and Africa and well worth growing. The greatest obstacle to trying Richter’s recommended summer plants is lack of knowledge. We have a different idea of what summer vegetables should be (think tomatoes and cucumbers) and it is hard to branch out. And in addition, one can rarely find local readily available plants although seeds are available in catalogs or online.

So, in these upcoming dog days of summer, when you can’t be outside gardening, plan for a more resilient summer garden in 2025. Consider using shade cloth or trying some new summer vegetables. You may find a new favorite summer treat.

If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700. Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at Click on “Resources.”