How To Protect Plants From Heat & Sun (8 Ways To Cool Plants)

Heat waves, sunscald, and drought – what’s not to love about summer? If you are worried about keeping your heat-stressed plants cool in the hottest season, you are not alone.

So, how do you protect plants from heat & sun? Some of the best ways to protect plants from heat and sun are shade cloth, row covers, shade structures (awning, trellis, or pergola), planting near other tall crops, mulching, windbreaks, avoiding fertilizer in dry soil, and watering thoroughly. Using multiple methods keeps plants much cooler than they would be without protection.

Some of these methods need some work up front – but it might be worthwhile to save your plants (and your harvest).

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at 8 methods to keep plants cool by protecting them from heat and sun. We’ll also look briefly at how you might protect potted plants from heat & sun.

Let’s begin.

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How To Protect Plants From Heat & Sun

In many places, summer brings extreme heat and strong sunlight. Unfortunately, this can cause all kinds of problems for plants.

Summer sun can ruin your garden fun if it is too intense.

For example, extreme heat and sun can cause the following in tomato plants:

sunscald on tomato
Strong sunlight can cause sunscald spots on tomato fruit.

Many plants can tolerate full sun – but sometimes, even those plants need a little protection from the sun’s harshest rays.

(You can find some plants that tolerate heat here).

Luckily, there are several ways to protect plants from heat & sun, including:

You can skip ahead to the relevant section of the article by clicking the links above – or you can keep going to read the whole article below.

row cover
A row cover is just one way to protect plants from heat or sun in the summer months.

Use Shade Cloth To Protect Plants From Heat & Sun

Shade cloth is a great way to protect plants from the summer sun – and cool them down at the same time. In fact, shade cloth can reduce temperature by 10 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius).

A difference of 10 degrees Fahrenheit makes a big difference when it comes to seed germination, seedling growth, and plant health.

green shade cloth
Shade cloth blocks 20% to 90% of sunlight (depending on grade) and can keep plants 10 degrees cooler.
Image courtesy of:
T.R. Shankar Raman
via Wikimedia Commons:

Shade cloth is made from woven or knitted material (such as polyester or polyethylene). It filters out sunlight and provides shade so that plant leaves and fruit do not get damaged.

Shade cloth with a higher density is more durable and blocks more sunlight to provide more shade. Shade cloth comes in various percentages, from 20% (blocks 20% of light) to 90% (blocks 90% of light).

Shade-tolerant plants may require higher grades of shade cloth. For example, lettuce may need 70% shade cloth.

Penn State University Extension recommends 30% to 50% shade cloth for most garden plants.

Make sure the shade cloth does not come in contact with plants (if it does, it can burn them).  o prevent this problem, use stakes or cages to support shade cloth and hold it a few inches above your plants.

tomato plants with stakes
You can use stakes to hold up shade cloth and keep your plants cooler.

You can use twine to tie the shade cloth to the supports. You can also use rocks to keep the shade cloth in place during windy weather if the edges touch the ground.

You might also be able to use old screens from a window as a makeshift shade cloth.

You can learn more about shade cloth (and the different types and uses) in my article here.

Row Covers To Protect Plants From Heat & Sun

A row cover is another simple method to protect plants from intense summer sunlight.

row cover
A row cover is a lightweight material that protect plants from pests and can also provide shade.

Row covers are more often used to keep plants warm in spring or fall. However, they can also help to keep pests away while blocking intense sunlight during the height of summer.

Thicker row covers are heavier, but they provide more protection from both pests and sunlight. Row covers are often made from polypropylene, polyester, or polyethylene.

You can leave row covers on for days or weeks at a time, which is helpful during a long period of intense sunlight with few clouds.

row cover
Use curved hoops (made of flexible plastic) to hold up row covers over plants to make a tunnel.

There are two basic types of row covers:

You can learn more about row covers (and the various types & uses) in my article here.

Set Up A Shade Structure To Protect Plants From Heat & Sun

It might be a good idea to build a structure to provide shade for your plants. Even if they only get shade for part of the day, your plants will do better in the heat.

An A-frame or lean-to trellis works well for shorter plants that tolerate shade (such as lettuce). An added benefit is that vining plants (like tomatoes, cucumbers, or squash) can climb up the sides of the trellis and provide even more shade for the plants below.

A-frame chicken coop
An A-frame shape gives you place to grow tall plants (above) and short plants that need shade (below).
Image courtesy of:
VanTucky via:
Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.

An A-frame has an A-shape (two diagonal pieces of wood meet at a point). On the other hand, a lean-to trellis only has one diagonal piece, supported by a vertical piece of wood.

lean-to trellis
A lean-to trellis only has one diagonal edge, but it can give tall plants a place to climb above and provide shade for other plants below.

You can learn more about the best materials to use for a garden trellis in my article here.

An awning may be useful for providing shade to plants near your house (such as those on a patio or in a window box).

You can also provide shade by using a pergola with vines growing up the sides and over top. However, this project is a little more involved – and it takes up more space than trellises or awnings.

A pergola is another way to provide some extra shade for plants – but it is a big project!

You can learn more about pergolas (and their uses) in my article here.

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Locate Plants Near Tall Companions To Protect Them From Heat & Sun

Instead of building structures to provide shade, why not use other tall plants to protect against sunlight?

For example, you can plant shade tolerant crops (like lettuce) near taller plants that will provide shade, such as:

  • Corn
  • Pole beans
  • Tomatoes
tomato plant
Tall plants (like tomatoes) can provide shade for short plants (like lettuce).

Another good option is to choose heat-tolerant varieties of your favorite plants in the garden. The University of Delaware has a list of heat tolerant varieties for several crops, including:

  • Broccoli
  • Green Beans
  • Lettuce
  • Sweet Corn
  • Tomatoes
Choosing heat-tolerant broccoli varieties will prevent them from bolting before you get a good head of broccoli.

Heat-tolerant plant varieties may still need some heat protection during the summer – but every little bit of heat resistance helps.

Use Mulch To Protect Plants From Heat & Sun

Mulch insulates soil, but that doesn’t mean it always makes soil warmer. Instead, mulch keeps warm soil warm – and it keeps cool soil cool (by preventing heat from moving between soil and air).

Mulch insulates soil, keeping it cool when already cool (and warm if already warm).

If you add a layer of mulch around plants in the morning (when the air and soil are cool), it will stay cooler during the day.

There are lots of mulches you can use. Straw is a good choice, since it is light, easy to apply, and easy to remove. It also decomposes fast, so it eventually adds organic material and nutrients to the soil.

If you want to use straw to protect plants from heat, you can buy it online in bales from Ace Hardware.

straw bale
Straw is a good choice for mulching around plants to protect against heat.

Apply mulch in the morning, before the sun starts beating down on plants. This will keep the soil cool.

As an added benefit, mulch can also protect potato tubers from sunlight (sun exposure causes them to turn green and produce the toxic substance solanine).

Just be sure not to apply too much mulch to your plants – too much can kill them if you overdo it!

Build A Windbreak To Protect Plants From Heat & Sun

A windbreak near your plants will help to reduce the hot summer wind that can damage plants by drying out their leaves. Plants lose water through their leaves by transpiration, and it is worse in hot, dry, windy conditions.

wind vane
When hot, dry summer winds blow, a windbreak can protect plants from the worst of it.

According to the Penn State University Extension, seedlings are especially vulnerable to hot, dry wind. This is especially true if they were transplanted recently without proper hardening off.

You can learn more about how to protect plants from wind (and storms) in my article here.

Avoid Fertilizing Plants In Dry Soil To Protect Plants From Heat & Sun

Extreme heat and intense sunlight are hard enough on plants in the summer months. Don’t make it worse by fertilizing them at the wrong time!

ammonium nitrate
Fertilizer will burn plants if you apply too much, or if you apply it in dry soil without watering.

The nutrients in fertilizer need to dissolve in water so that plant roots can absorb them. This won’t happen in dry soil (this is why you need to water in fertilizer after using it).

Even worse, applying fertilizer to plants when the soil is dry can burn them. Remember to get a soil test to make sure that you really do need fertilizer – and follow the package instructions when using it.

Water Plants Thoroughly & Early In The Day To Protect Them From Heat & Sun

Watering plants will keep them a little cooler and help them to survive the hottest, sunniest part of the day with less risk of damage. The best time to water is early in the day – with a deep, thorough watering.

watering can
Water plants early in the day to let the water soak into the soil before the sun can evaporate it away.

Watering early in the day allows more water to soak into the soil before the sun can cause evaporation. According to the Penn State University Extension, there are two benefits to watering plants early:

  • Wet soil stays cooler than dry soil, despite heat and sun (it takes energy to evaporate water, which has a cooling effect – just like when we sweat).
  • Wet soil does not become crusty and dry in the sun (dry soil absorbs water poorly – in fact, it often forms a crust and repels the water, making it hard to soak the soil).
Soil that is too dry becomes “hydrophobic”, and then it is difficult to get the soil to absorb water.

In addition to watering early in the day, you should also water thoroughly. Watering plants deeply has two benefits:

  • Your plants have enough water to get through a hot, dry day.
  • Your plants will develop deeper, more extensive root systems than if you watered shallowly and frequently.

The University of Arizona Extension suggests using an irrigation system on a timer to automate morning watering. You can even set the timer to start watering before dawn to take full advantage of cool morning temperatures.

How Do You Protect Potted Plants From Heat & Sun?

Some of the same methods mentioned above can be used for plants in containers (such as grow bags, raised beds, planter boxes, window boxes, or pots).

raised bed image homepage
You can plant in raised beds instead of pots, but remember that soil above ground dries out fast!

However, another good option is to take advantage of the mobility of potted plants. That way, you can move them into a shaded area, at least during the hottest part of the day (mid-afternoon).

To move potted plants, use a dolly or flat moving cart to help with transportation. Remember that the soil in a pot can hold a lot of water, making it heavy.

outdoor potted plant
Potted plants are easier to move when the soil is not so heavy with water.

The best time to move a potted plant is when the soil is a little on the dry side, so there isn’t as much water weight to move around.


Now you have a few ways to protect your plants from heat and sun. Hopefully, a few of these methods can help you to keep your plants cool and save your harvest this summer.

I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

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Jon M

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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