Carol Hillhouse, the Ecological Coordinator at the UC Davis student farm, says preparing your garden to survive hot dry days starts with the soil.
Hillhouse recommends massaging lots of rich, organic compost into the first three to twelve inches of soil. Compost acts like a sponge that retains and holds water near the roots of plants.
The next step is mulching. Hillhouse recommends laying straw or cardboard boxes over the ground surrounding crops to build a thick carpet.
“Mulching keeps those weeds at bay and keeps the soil cool, dry, dark and reduces the evaporation,” says Hillhouse.
Now it's time to plant.
“Things like basil, tomatoes, peppers, summer squash; these are all our crops that are going to thrive in the warm season,” says Hillhouse. “We shy away at this point from our cool season crops – the lettuce, the broccoli and the carrots.”
She suggests watering twice a week with a drip irrigation system. Water will penetrate slowly and steadily allowing roots to extend deep into the soil.
Make sure you listen for unusual squirting sounds indicating a leak. A small hole in a hose can release a large amount of water over the course of a day. Also, look for pooling or puddling on the surface.
Finally, if you've decided to pass on a summer garden, Hillhouse recommends feeding your soil by planting a cover crop like cow peas so the dirt is healthy this fall.