The Gardener's July Calendar

We have had daily temperatures in the 90s, so I've been watering in the mornings or late evenings at the base of the plants and trying to not get the foliage wet in the process. I've also been mulching my new planting beds, which is making a difference in retaining water during the hottest part of the day.

In addition, for gardening tasks such as weeding, getting outside in the early morning or early evening is key to getting tasks accomplished and avoid the worst of the summer heat. (Remember to stay hydrated as well!)

Indoors, I'm beginning to switch my seed starting efforts over to plants that I want to succession sow, as well as perennials and crops that will yield a fall harvest.

Here are some other gardening tasks to keep in mind this month:

  • Daffodil and spring bulbs — Usually by July 4 the foliage left over from spring bulbs has withered away and is safe to remove. Removing it before July (even though it might look unsightly) won't allow the plant to store enough energy for blooming again next year. 
  • Japanese beetles — 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 and can be treated the same way. They both eat foliage and flower petals. In the past I've sprayed beneficial nematodes on my grass to get rid of future Japanese beetles, but this year I am going to make sure they are sprayed on my garden beds as well. (The beneficial nematodes destroy the grubs in the ground, and I recently learned they go after weevils as well, which are attacking one of my clematis vines in the back garden.) I do stay away from the Japanese beetle traps (hanging bags with the lures) because they seem to attract every beetle in the neighborhood. Now if a neighbor a block over wants to set one up, that's fine with me ...
  • Watch out for poison ivyHere is an informative article on how to spot and avoid the beastly plant.
  • 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 hummingbird 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 on dill, fennel and parsley and monarch caterpillars on all varieties of milkweed. For more info on raising monarchs, read this piece I wrote previously for the blog.
  • Fertilize! (Unless you are experiencing extreme heat.) — 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, but I had to stop using it because the smell attracts animals which dig up my plants. Follow the guidelines on the package for how often to fertilize.  
  • 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. 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.)
  • 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. I've read that growing lettuce as a ground cover under tomatoes helps prevent water splash up on the plant, an interesting thought, but I haven't tried it out myself yet.
  • Flower seeds — There is still time to plant a last batch of zinnias, tithonias, cosmos and sunflowers, but get them in fast. Like, now. For sunflowers, you can plant new seeds every two weeks to provide for continuous blooms.

  • 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. A really good resource for growing berries is Homegrown Berries by Terri Dunn Chace.
  • Herbs and edible flowers — 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.
  • Prevent injuries — To prevent injuries in the garden, it's good to stretch before you go outside. Review a few other exercises that you can do to prevent injuries here
  • 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. You can also try tying kitchen twine to sagging branches to the central stem for support. It didn't work perfectly, but did help. 

  • 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. In my area, the University of Connecticut offers a basic soil test for homeowners (more details here). Be sure to check your local agricultural extension service for their soil testing guidelines. 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.

  • Plan your fall garden — Growing lettuce, carrots, beets or more for the fall? Start planning now. I am planning to use my books to do a better job of making my fall and winter gardens this year. A few 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) and produced a spring crop of peas earlier then the peas I sowed in the spring.

  • 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! Some previous places I've visited include Winterthur and The New York Botanical Garden, as well as the Lily Show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. 

What's on your to-do list this month?

I garden in Zone 6b in Central Connecticut.


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