Summer in Austin, Texas

photo: Helianthus annuus Velvet Queen

Considering Austin's 270 frost free days, you might assume that we are blessed with an incredibly long growing season here in zone 8. But those cold-hardiness charts only tell half the story. At the other end of the spectrum is the question, "How many hot days can a plant stand?" Plants begin to suffer physiological damage when it's merely 86 degrees.

Austin gardeners really have two short growing seasons separated by six weeks of scorching heat. Sometime in June, I begin wondering "Is that the last rain until Fall?" and "How many 100+ degree days will we have this year?"

In summer, the Austin gardener faces hard decisions. Which plants should we try to pull through to Fall? How much water are we willing to spend to help a plant limp along? And even if we have the time and money to pamper our plants through the heat, will this year's watering restrictions allow us to do so?

The Dead of Summer

Summer is the end of our gardening year. Northern gardeners suffer through the dead of winter; we suffer through the dead of summer. The heat and humidity make the garden a miserable place for plants and gardeners alike. Stressed plants provide a feast for bugs and disease. The gardener provides a feast for mosquitoes. The gardener ventures out only early in the morning or late in the evening to nurse the plants along or resign the latest casualties to the compost pile.