The Gardener's July Calendar

The garden in late June, early July.
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 humidity. But there is a lot to do in the garden this month, so getting out early in the morning is key to getting tasks in before the hot sun takes over. (Remember to stay hydrated as you work out in the heat.)

Here are some things to keep in mind:
Japanese beetles running amok.

Japanese Beetles
Nothing seems to be more dependable then the awakening of Japanese beetles in July. I hate these garden pests, as I've written about in the past. 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, blossoms or leaves they are sitting on over a cup of soapy water so the beetles fall in. I don't use anything fancy - any dish soap will do. Oriental beetles are also as annoying as the Japanese beetles. Together, they eat foliage and flower petals. I spotted a few already in the garden.

In the past I've tried to spray beneficial nematodes on my grass to get rid of future Japanese beetles. I have seen less beetles over time, which could be due to the removal of the lawn or the nematodes. But because my neighbors do not take action to get rid of their Japanese beetle grubs, I still get their bugs visiting my garden.

In addition, I stay away from the Japanese beetle traps because they seem to attract every one in the neighborhood. Now if a neighbor a block over wants to set one up, that's fine with me ... ;-)

Prevent Injuries
NPR recently shared a good story on preventing back pain while gardening. I found the most interesting part was learning that using your knees to bend isn't a fail-proof way to prevent pulled back muscles. What was recommended was strengthening your core, particularly in your back muscles. To view the recommended exercises, click here. I usually pull my back out at least twice during the growing season when I pick up a watering can wrong, so I'm going to start doing these exercises to see if they help!
Deadhead spent flowers.

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.

Hummingbirds and Butterflies
Keep those feeders clean, especially as the temperatures get hotter! Forgoing the feeder? Try growing these plants to attract them to your garden instead. Keep a lookout in the garden for black swallowtail caterpillars and monarch caterpillars. Read more on butterfly gardening here.

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.

Fertilize!
Potted plants need the most fertilizer, vegetables after that. I like to use an organic fertilizer. I've had very good luck with Organic Plant Magic and Dr. Earth's concentrated 3-3-3 liquid fertilizer. A seaweed-based liquid fertilizer works well, too, even if it's smelly. 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, or weakly weekly.

Garlic scapes.
Harvest Garlic
By now you should have cut off your garlic scapes. (Did you make this delicious pesto from them?) At mid-month, it should be time to harvest garlic. It may be a little earlier this month in my garden, based on how fast they began to grow in the spring. I wait for half of the lower garlic stem and leaves to turn yellow. The trick is not to wait too long to dig them up, or the cloves will begin to separate which effects how long they can be stored. I hold off on watering before I dig them up. When I decide it's time to harvest them, I 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 to house guests that we are warding off vampires.)

Keep plants healthy
to maximize tomato yields.
Prune Tomato Plants
On tomatoes, suckers will grow in the crotch where a branch meets the stem. Removing these helps the plant by increasing the airflow which prevents diseases like late blight. A plant with more suckers typically produces smaller fruit.

Also, be sure to remove any yellow leaves from the plant. I remove the bottom leaves (with about a 6 inch clearance from the first leaf bract to the soil) to prevent water from splashing up and starting fungal infections on the leaves. This is especially important this year! Many of my friends on Twitter are already reporting cases of early blight due to excess rain and humidity across the United States.

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. (I have given up the fight here to the persistent robins, and have vowed to erect bird netting next year.) 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. Two years ago I planted peas in my cold frame in the fall. 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 11 years ago) and produced a spring crop of peas earlier then the peas I sowed in the spring.
Pears need support.

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. Last year I tried tying kitchen twine to sagging branches to the central stem for support. It didn't work perfectly, but did help.

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.

Travel to Gardens
This is the perfect time to get ideas and view other's creations, whether public or private gardens. Seeing what is blooming now also helps you expand the blooming palette in your garden!

As always, onward!

I garden in Zone 6b in Central Connecticut.

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