July Garden Chores

Mid-summer in the garden (from 2012).

It always seems like the summer months go by faster than the winter months, at least for me. So here we are in July, with the heat of summer about to be a permanent reality in the Northeast. At first it may seem that this is the month to surrender to the heat and enjoy nature. But as I compiled this list, I realized there's a lot to do!

Here are some tasks I'm planning to keep in mind this month to keep the garden looking its best.

Deadhead Flowers
This is a time-consuming but important task for a large garden. Deadheading makes plants concentrate their efforts on producing new flowers as opposed to seeds. (Of course, if you want seeds, skip this step.) I find that I am constantly deadheading roses, daisies, marigolds and zinnias this month.

Soil Tests
Is an established plant not performing the way you were hoping it would? Get your soil tested to see what nutrients it may be missing. The University of Connecticut offers a basic soil test for $8 for homeowners. Using a small trowel or bulb planter, take samples of soil from 10 different spots in the sample area. Mix the samples in a container and then take a one cup sample to send out for analysis. Once your test results return (the website estimates 7-10 days) you can use the information to determine what the soil needs for correcting. Most garden centers are willing to help you decipher the guidelines if it seems confusing.
Japanese beetles running amok.

Japanese Beetles
I hate these garden pests, as I've written about last year. The best way to get rid of them is by going out in the early morning or late evening, when the bugs are sluggish, and shake the branches over a cup of soapy water so the beetles fall in. Oriental beetles are also as annoying as the Japanese beetles. Together, they eat foliage and flower petals. I spotted a few yesterday in the garden.

Fertilize!
Potted plants need the most fertilizer, vegetables after that. I like to use an organic fertilizer. So far this season I've had very good luck with Organic Plant Magic. I've also used a seaweed-based liquid fertilizer in the past. You should fertilize plants every two weeks. In a previous story, Michael Ruggiero advised to fertilize at half strength if you are afraid of over-doing it.

Harvest Garlic
Oriental beetles are also a nuisance.
By now you should have cut off your garlic scapes. Mid-month, it should be time to harvest garlic. I wait for half of the lower garlic stem and leaves to turn yellow. I then use a small hand shovel to dig them out (don't go to close or you may cut the bulb). I let them dry on my patio for the afternoon and then I shake off the excess dirt from the roots and hang them to dry. In my house, the coat rack behind the back door provides enough air circulation and keeps them out of direct sunlight. (It also appears that we are ready for a vampire invasion at a moment's notice.)

Prune Out Suckers on Tomato Plants
I found a lot of suckers (some already pretty large)  growing in the crotch where a branch meets the stem yesterday while checking my plants. These are important to remove because it helps the tomato plant have appropriate airflow to prevent diseases like late blight. Also, the more suckers present, the less larger fruit your plant will produce. Also, remove any yellow leaves from the plant.

Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor
When it comes to harvesting fruit, such as raspberries and blueberries, pick regularly (perhaps every day) to avoid losing your crop to birds. If you don't harvest your vegetables regularly, they can over-ripen and begin to spoil on the stem. Many edible flowers can be harvested all summer long (learn more here). If herbs try to flower, pinch them off so the flavor is stronger in the leaves. The one exception to this rule I allow is oregano. I grow more than I can use, and the flowers attract bees like crazy, which help my other plants.

Plan Your Fall Garden
Growing lettuce, carrots, beets or more for the fall? Start planning now. I am planning to use my books (such as Niki Jabbour's and Eliot Coleman's) to do a better job of making my fall and winter gardens this year. Last fall I planted peas in my cold frame. The plants grew slowly over the winter with the protection (even with some of the coldest temperatures I've experienced in Connecticut since I moved here 10 years ago) and produced a spring crop of peas earlier then the peas I sowed in the spring.

Fruit Trees
Keep an eye on fruit trees that may have branches starting to sag from the weight of the fruit. My grandfather used to grow Bartlett pears and by late summer, his whole tree was propped up with stakes to keep the fruits from breaking the branches. This year I tried tying kitchen twine to sagging branches to the central stem for support. (My stakes kept getting knocked over, perhaps by the groundhog. Grr.) I'll have to remove the twine after harvest so it doesn't damage the growing bark.
Zinnia seeds sowed in late June.

Flower Seeds
There is still time to plant a last batch of zinnias, tithonias, cosmos and sunflowers, but get them in fast. I've had to hold off planting a lot of things I wanted to because I have a groundhog problem this year that I am still trying to deal with.

Remember to stay hydrated as you work out in the heat. As always, onward! 

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