July heat and drought bring new tasks to the garden

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Stephanie Hudak

Stephanie Hudak

By Stephanie Hudak

July normally brings us unrelenting heat and days on end with no rain, but as I write this the weather man is reporting that we will have a continuous line of storms coming our way, probably even as you are reading this. Too much rain brings its own set of problems to the garden but since we still have a lot of summer ahead of us, we should talk about what needs done when it is too hot to go outside.

When this rain does end you will probably have to rent a goat to trim your lawn. But assuming that we will soon be facing hot, dry days, it will be time to raise the mower blades to allow the grass some surface area to replenish it nutrients and hold some moisture. Remember that grass and gardens need at least one inch of water a week. Place a rain gauge in the sprinkler’s watering area to determine that you are getting that 1 inch. Since sprinklers are not all created equally, move the gauge around and you will probably see that some spots are not getting the needed amount. Whatever you do, don’t think you can wave a hose over the plants like you are washing off the car and still get them adequately watered. Shallow watering is worse than no watering. As the summer heat intensifies, your containers, especially the smaller ones, will need watering every day so don’t neglect them either.

Don’t forget that all this rain we are having is making the weeds very, very happy. They will be taking up residence right next to your flowers and vegetables, only to steal valuable moisture and nutrients. While the ground is soft, pull them up and toss them out. If you don’t have a good layer of mulch, add some more. There should be at least 2-3 inches to keep the weeds from thriving. Notice I didn’t say they wouldn’t find a way to come up, but at least don’t make them happy campers. If you are fighting the creeping grasses, they are best sprayed. Pulling and leaving a piece of root will make them come back with a vengeance. Use a tight stream directed onto the green blades or use a small brush and “paint” the grass. Tedious I know, but if the grass is growing near a prized plant, this is a safe way to get herbicide on it.

The bugs are getting bigger and badder. Tomato hornworms are the stuff they make horror movies out of and they make quick work of our beloved tomatoes. Don’t wait until the bugs have destroyed an entire crop; get them in check early. The environmentally friendly way is to hand pick them– ugh! If you hate touching them as much as I do, I’ll bet there are still some young ’uns who would thoroughly enjoy catching them for you – and a few silver coins across their palms would provide a little incentive.

It is time to stop feeding woody shrubs until late fall. They don’t need a flush of new growth to contend with the heat of summer, unless you plan on doing a lot of supplemental watering; nor do they need that new growth coming when the temperatures might drop suddenly in late fall. Speaking of new growth, keep those unwanted suckers and water sprouts cut out; they are not only unsightly but are stealing nutrients. While you are messing about in the shrubs, look out for damaged or dead wood and clean those out; they are great places for disease and pests to thrive.

It is time to stop pruning spring flowering shrubs so that they have time to set bud for next year. But you can get in one more trimming of those mums so they can set their buds for a grand display this fall. While you are pruning things, this is the time to get soft wood cuttings of any shrubs that you would like to propagate.

If you are experiencing poor growth on your plantings now is a good time to send in a soil sample to the County Extension Office. They won’t be as busy as they are in spring and you will have the time to plan for any changes that need to be made in the fall or next spring.

Herbs are at their peak flavor before they go to bloom so harvest them often. Basil can be reseeded to keep a steady supply and for the other herbs, either dry them or freeze them. Rambling roses and climbers can be trimmed back now. Don’t forget the vines; keep them tied up as new growth comes on. Watch on those aggressive ones too or they will be crawling into your attic space before you know it. Trim them back before they cause structural damage.

One more thing that needs watering – your compost piles. Keep them moist so that they can “cook.” This will hasten the composting action and burn out the weeds and seeds. With all the wonderful summer fruits and vegetables available to us now, you should have lots of “green material” from the peelings and rinds to add to the pile. Your garden will thank you in the fall.

And did you get your fall bulbs ordered? As you are ordering, keep in mind the mantra of “early, middle and late” bloomers so that you have a long spring of color.

“All great gardeners… are also great ramblers; they spend the happiest and most significant days of their lives prowling and poking about and going around in circles.” –Beverley Nichols

This quote is from a lovely little book entitled Rhapsody In Green – The Garden Wit and Wisdom of Beverley Nichols, edited by Roy C. Dicks.

Hugs are great medicine; give someone a dose today.

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