Southern Summer Favorites to Plant This Week: Okra, Peppers and Squash

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Difficulty: Beginner

Garden tips by region peppers

What would Southern classics be without okra, squash and hot peppers? These standards are easy to grow in the garden and containers and thrive in long, hot summers with a weekly watering of 1-2”.

Okra: 

Plant okra when the soil is 65 degrees or warmer, in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun.

  1. Soak seeds overnight to speed germination.
  2. Sow seeds 1” deep and 18” apart in rows 3’ apart.
  3. When plants are 6” tall, mulch with 4” of compost.
  4. Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly.

Peppers:

Huge, sweet red bells, mildly hot Anaheims, petite purple sweets, and wildly hot yellow habaneros – take your choice or plant them all in the garden or containers.

Peppers love hot weather, so pepper transplants, seeds and seedlings should be set out only after soil temperatures are above 65 degrees. Once the plants have flowered, give them a dose of Epsom salts (magnesium) to produce bigger peppers and more of them.

A note about hot peppers. Be mean to them, especially as they approach maturity. Quit watering as much, and don’t worry if leaves go limp in the afternoon sun. Lack of moisture concentrates the capsicum in the pepper, raising the heat level.

  1. To speed germination, place the seeds between a few damp paper towels and put in a zippered plastic bag in a warm place. The top of the refrigerator works fine.
  2. Add a 1” layer of compost over the planting bed, or scratch an organic vegetable fertilizer into containers before planting. 
  3. As soon as the pepper seeds sprout, carefully plant them in individual containers or directly into the ground spaced 12-18” apart.
  4. Water deeply, 1-2” every 5-7 days, unless plants are in containers, which require more frequent watering.
  5. When flowers appear, scratch a tablespoon of Epsom salts around the base of each pepper plant. Or spray the tops and bottoms of leaves with 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts mixed with 1 quart of warm water.
  6. Mulch flowering plants with 2” of organic mulch.
  7. Cage or stake plants as they grow taller and begin producing peppers.

Squash:

There are many varieties of squash, both summer and winter, bush varieties or vining. The main difference between the two varieties is their harvest time; the longer growing period gives winter squash a tougher, inedible skin.

Depending on where you live, you can seed or transplant seedlings any time from one week after the last spring frost to midsummer, as long as the soil temperature is above 60 degrees.

Summer and winter squash are huge plants and big eaters, so make sure the soil is fertile, and they have room to spread.

  1. Mix 3” of compost and an organic vegetable fertilizer into the soil. 
  2. Sow seeds 2 weeks after the last expected spring frost or when soil temperatures reach 60 degrees.
  3. Plant seeds 1” deep and 2-3’ apart.
  4. Frequent and consistent watering is recommended, especially when fruits form and throughout their growth period. To know when to water, stick your finger in the soil; if it is dry to the first joint, water.
  5. Once plants are 6” high, spread 2-3” of organic mulch.
  6. When plants flower, side dress with a liquid organic fertilizer and continue to fertilize occasionally for vigorous growth and lots of fruit.

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