10 Vegetables and Flowers to Grow in Heat
Summer Gardening Inspiration
Recently, a friend told me she wanted to start a garden with her kids this Summer. She was looking for vegetables and flowers to grow in heat and she only wanted to grow things from seed that would easily sprout without special attention. As I assembled a collection of seeds for her, I got the inspiration to write this article because I realized that it could come in handy as we enter the warmer months and are curious what seeds we can start in warmer months—-like May, June, or July.
To preface, my friend is a total garden newbie. I was thrilled that she expressed interest in gardening with her kids, and I was determined to do what I could to help her fall in love with gardening. To prepare my friend for success, I had a few guidelines for selecting the seeds I was sending:
All these crops:
a) don’t need to be started extremely early/indoors. These are fast growers that can be started once the warm weather has officially arrived.
b) germinate & sprout pretty quickly. This is better for beginners who might be unfamiliar with seed starting.
c) enjoy warm, summertime temperatures—these are all vegetables and flowers that grow in heat!
Finally, all plants on this list perform extremely well in Southern California, especially in our little area of Orange County that hits 112 degrees in the Summer. While this list is by no means exhaustive, I hope it is helpful for those of you looking to start a summer garden in a hotter climate.
Climate Notes for Growing
I’m in zone 10b (you can learn about and find your garden zone here). When starting from seed, always look at the temperatures in your area and create a plan. In general, warm/summer season plants don’t want to be exposed to temperatures below 60 degrees F. If you feel like it’s warm enough to start your seeds, you have a few options: First, you can direct sow your seeds right into your garden! Second, you can sow seeds in pots or seed cells for transplanting later. Bring seedlings out during the day and in during the night if the nights are still a bit chilly. Lastly, you could start early indoors with an indoor seed starting setup (I have an example of one HERE) but this option is the most involved and really not necessary for the crops on this list. Regardless of which option you choose, are you ready to learn about 10 Vegetables and Flowers to Grow in Heat?
10 Vegetables & Flowers to Grow in Heat
1) Zinnia Flowers
Why plant zinnias? Zinnias are a wonderful annual flower for attracting bees to your garden, thus increasing pollination. Their bright colors are like candy for the eyes, and they won’t wilt on a hot summer day. Zinnias also make a great cut flower.
When to start zinnia seeds? These are heat loving flowers that grow quickly and do not love moist conditions because they can succumb to powdery mildew. Start them around the same time you’d start your squash (late February, March, or April) as they are pretty quick growers who will bloom into late Fall for you.
Botanical Interests has a whole page of zinnia seeds for purchase HERE.I have no doubt you can find a zinnia color that will look beautiful in your garden.
Friends, homegrown cucumbers have the most incredible flavor! Truthfully, cucumbers are a great crop for beginners too, but there are a few things to note about growing great cucumbers:
How do you like to eat cucumbers? Some varieties of cucumbers are more suited to pickling versus fresh eating. When selecting cucumbers to grow, try to look at the seed description to see how it is recommended to eat that type of cucumber. Personally, some of my favorite cucumbers to grow are ‘soarer’, ‘summer dance’, and ‘marketmore 76’.
Cucumbers typically need some support. While there are some bush varieties of cucumbers, most are climbers and will need some support. You can check out my article on Vertical Gardening Ideas if you need some inspiration for trellises and other ways I grow vertically in the garden.
Why grow okra? Well, this time you might have to tell me. Okra is a very polarizing vegetable. Some people love it, or some people can’t stand it. Personally, I enjoy okra chopped and roasted in a hot oven with some salt BUT it can become slimy when cooked. Okra is not even phased by a triple digit summer and grows so fast you’ll have trouble keeping up on harvests—but you need to grow what you love to eat, so ask yourself: would you eat okra? If so, plant it!
NOTE: most varieties of okra grow very tall. They are a wonderful vegetable to grow along the back of a bed with shorter vegetables and flowers planted in front.
When should I start okra seeds? Start okra seeds when it warms up (around April-May). They love heat and grow quickly.
My favorite okra to grow: Clemson Spineless okra is extremely dependable. It’s got the classic okra color (green) and shape.
Why grow sunflowers? They can make anyone smile! Sunflowers are also wonderful lounge pads for bees and are one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed. In my garden, I like to use dwarf sunflower varieties to decorate the front of my garden beds, and use tall varieties as backdrops or along fences. Sunflowers are great first-time plants for kids and you can read more about why they are a wonderful garden choice in my Top 10 Flowers For a Potager Garden article.
When to start sunflower seeds? When it is warm. Sunflowers grow super fast from seed, so just wait until all frost danger has passed in your area before sowing. For zone 10b, that’s anywhere from April-June, and then you can continue to succession sow every few weeks for the whole Summer. See my Complete Guide To Growing Sunflowers for more information on growing them from seed.
My favorite varieties of sunflowers to grow:
‘Teddy Bear’ Sunflowers- They are the cutest! Most only grow 12-24″ tall.
‘Cherry Rose’ sunflowers
You can find more sunflower varieties to grow in your garden HERE.
Why grow melons? Homegrown melons just taste better. Melons love heat, and I feel very lucky to have a climate that is perfect for growing melons. See, our long and hot summers really allow the melons to have enough time to get super sweet. One challenge in climates with shorter summer seasons is finding melons that will mature fast enough (which you can find), but here in Southern California they have plenty of time.
When to start melon seeds? Wait until the weather has warmed up because melons grow fast (like summer squash) and will easily become stunted in cooler weather. I typically wait until April or May to start my melon seeds. After transplanting, it seems like the melon plants do nothing for weeks and then all of a sudden they take off like crazy! Give them time and consistent water. PS: melon vines can grow to 8 feet long and overtake an entire plot in no time. For my tips on growing smaller varieties vertically, I highly recommend reading my Vertical Garden Guide.
My favorite melon varieties to grow:
Orangeglo watermelon- My favorite watermelon in regards to flavor. It is sweet and meaty.
Crimson Sweet watermelon- A very succesfuly variety in my climate, and very very sweet.
Charentais– this French heirloom variety that resembles a cantaloupe. It is more finicky than some of the other melons I grow, but the flavor is amazing!
6) Summer Squash
Arguably one of the most straightforward crops to grow from seed, summer squashes are insanely generous producers—a list of vegetables and flowers to grow in heat would not be complete without it! Now, this category of squashes includes zucchini, patty pan squash, crookneck, yellow squash and more—but I also want to say that you could plant winter squashes too.
Despite the name, “winter squash” should actually be grown during the Summer months in order to be ready for harvest in the Fall. The reason they are called “winter squash” is because this category of squashes are typically harvested, cured, and eaten over the winter months as opposed to summer squashes. Some example of winter squashes you can grow are butternut, pumpkin, acorn, and delicata.
So, maybe the sixth item on this list should simply say “squash” but it’s up to you what type of squash you think you’ll enjoy growing. For my friend, I chose summer squashes because they form more quickly and can be eaten fresh in the Summer without the fuss of curing.
Why grow marigolds? Aside from their cheery colors, marigolds make amazing companion flower plants in the Summer garden. They are bee-friendly, heat tolerant, and also have a distinct smell that helps to deter pests from your garden space (marigolds also made my list of Top 10 Flowers for a Potager Garden).
When to start marigold seeds? You can start marigolds in pots indoors as early as March. They don’t grow as fast as other things—like zucchini, cucumbers, or sunflowers— so starting them a little earlier can be beneficial. If you don’t want to start seeds indoors you can wait until all danger of frost has passed and start your marigold seeds outside in pots or directly in the garden.
My favorite varieties of marigolds:
Why grow basil? Pssssst I know basil is an herb, but I’m sneaking it on this list of vegetables and flowers to grow in heat because it is a must-grow in any Summer garden 😉 I LOVE basil. My favorite part about growing basil is how easy it grows from seed and how versatile it is in the kitchen. Basil can become large batches of Classic Basil Pesto (which can also be frozen for future meals). Dried basil is perfect for adding to soups, stews, meatballs, and so much more. If you dehydrate basil whole (like I do HERE), it will keep that powerful basil flavor for even longer in storage!
When to start basil seeds? Basil does not tolerate frost. It truly is a Summer herb. I start mine indoors in March to get a head start, but you can also start it anytime it starts to warm up in your area. Basil grows really fast too. I prefer to start mine in 4″ pots for transplanting in the garden. Whenever I direct sow basil it gets eaten by pests—-probably because it is so delicious.
My favorite varieties of basil to grow:
Italian Genovese – a classic basil that is perfect for making basil pesto and dehydrating to stock your pantry.
Spicy Globe – this basil grows in a short, bushy shape which make sit perfect for borders. The leaves a very small, so we like to scatter them whole over pizza. As the name implies, this basil is a little spicier than most.
Sweet Thai Basil – We use this to make thai basil chicken or to add to our pho soup.
Tulsi Holy Basil – perfect for soothing tea.
NOTE: I do grow some fun purple basils, but have found that I grow those mainly for aesthetics and to let them bloom for pollinators. I don’t always enjoy their flavor in culinary uses.
Why grow beans? Not only do beans grow easily from seed, but they are a vegetable that grow well in heat. The family of beans is huge—so many types to grow!—so let’s talk a bit about those.
Now, there are bush beans and pole beans. Personally, I have had more success growing pole beans, and find that I can’t keep up on the succession sowing to make growing bush beans quite worth it. I’ve also found that my pole beans handle heat a lot better than my bush beans, while maximizing my space. As I discuss in my Vertical Gardening Guide, being able to grow vegetables vertically saves so much space! As the name implies, pole beans climb upwards and will need a trellis or structure for climbing. Beans in general are very fast growers so they make wonderful additions gardens for children.
There are also snap beans (like green beans), shelling beans, and dried beans. As I always say, grow what you like to eat! You can learn more about growing beans, especially dried beans for storage, in Growing Dried Heirloom Beans.
When to start bean seeds? If you can direct sow without having your seedlings eaten by pests, wait until temperatures are consistently at 55-60 degrees F or above. You can also start your beans in pots, but be aware that they will quickly outgrow their containers…so again, I wouldn’t start them too early. NOTE: some beans in the runner family (ie. scarlet runner beans) and garbanzo beans like cooler weather.
My favorite varieties to grow:
Monte Gusto – a yellow pole bean that performs well for me each year.
Dragon Tongue – a bush bean! I mention this one because I’ve found it to be the best producing bush bean I’ve grown, and it is delicious.
Fortex– a highly rated, dependable green bean.
‘Purple King’ Pole Bean- a highly productive purple bean. The beans do turn green when cooked.
Why grow corn? Have you ever purchased corn from the store only to find that it wasn’t sweet at all, just watery? Homegrown corn performs well in smaller spaces, while also harnessing the power of the sun to create the sweetest kernels. Furthermore, you can also grow your own popcorn! Homegrown popcorn allows you to add your own flavorings which makes it a much more delicious and healthy snack. I am not a corn growing expert, but I have grown my own sweet corn and my own popcorn. Make sure you check the seed packet to confirm which kind of corn you are growing. Sweet corn is meant for fresh eating, while popcorn has to stay longer on the stalk before harvest and then dried properly in order to be popped.
When to start corn seeds? Anytime from April (in my zone) to May/June in other zones. Corn will easily cross-pollinate in your garden and that can ruin your crop. I recommend growing one variety at a time to avoid this cross-pollination because, in a backyard garden, we can’t really space our corn out far enough to prevent cross-pollination. Last Summer I grew three waves of corn—I just made sure none of my corn was “blooming” or forming tassels at the same time. Corn is easily direct sown or can be started and transplanted.
*You can now read my full corn growing guide for all my tips for growing corn in a small, backyard garden.
My favorite varieties of corn to grow:
Martian Jewel – a unique corn with purple stalks and husks. The flavor is sweet, but not overly sweet. This variety has produced well in my garden.
Amaize – deliciouly sweet corn for fresh eating.
Strawberry Popcorn – One of my favorite corn varieties for popping!
Glass Gem – Every cob of glass gem corn is unique. The colors are magnificent. Another great corn for popping!