I'd love to be a plant whisperer. I'd tell the misplaced, overgrown, or all the onesie plants in my garden, please walk 10' this way or that. I'd politely ask the red twig dogwoods to move themselves closer to my white picket fence, so the white could show off their red twigs better (and I could see them from my window in winter), and bonus, they'd stop shading a large part of my summer perennial bed. I'd say to the irises that have popped up everywhere, "For Pete's sake, divide and consolidate yourselves, please." I'd ask the climbing roses to untangle from each other, and present themselves, cane by cane, to be pruned. And that tree that struggles in the 3' space next to the house? It would follow my direction to lumber, Lord of the Rings style, to the western side of the house where shade is needed and branches can spread out.
No landscape is exempt from this July realization: We over-planted, forgot that plants grow, put full sun plants in shade and shade plants in sun, and oh yeah, had to cut down a bunch of trees so now the azaleas are withering. Not to mention it's July. The garden is hot, dry, and full of weeds that seem immune to drought. Don't give up, the payoff is coming.
July task #1: Review the Garden
Is there a cohesiveness in the garden? Is the plan working? Maybe another set of eyes would help? A garden coach? (Sorry. Shameless plug.) Now is the time to determine what needs transplanting, consolidating, pruned, or completely removed, because well, it's a jungle out there. Rule of thumb for perennials; if is a spring blooming perennial, divide and transplant in fall, if it is a fall blooming perennial, divide and transplant in spring. Read here for pruning instructions and remember you can prune now if crowding and competing plants are out of hand, but only a 1/3 of the plant may be removed at a time. (Don't forget to complete pruning of spring flowering shrubs by July 10.)
July Task #2: Weeding and Watering
While you're reviewing and note taking, double check your beds weekly. Where is that problem spot in your yard? I've got a doozy. A corner where bittersweet and poison ivy reign, along with weeds I've yet to identify. Make a plan for getting those places cleaned up. Don't wait until fall when you'll be doing the fall clean-up chores, which is a gracious plenty. After clearing the big stuff from your problem spot, cover the area with plastic sheets to fry the remaining weeds, making cleanup easier and environmentally friendly. When weeds are brown, remove plastic and dead weeds, then lay down newspapers or corrugated cardboard, moisten it with water, weigh it down with rocks and cover with mulch to help keep future weeds away. (Don't till up the soil to avoid new weed seeds sprouting.) And, keep on mulching. Weeds compete for nutrients, sunlight and moisture, so yeah, they gotta go. My favorite book on weeds? Weeds of North America. My favorite internet site for weed id? Rutgers Weed Gallery, where you can identify weeds by picture. Know your enemy.
My rain gauge is bone dry, not even a droplet of water to cool a thirsty plant. If you live in Western North Carolina, you're feeling the lack of H2O, too. Water the new plants, but don't forget the established ones. They need it this year, too. Water deeply 3x a week, letting water slowly percolate into the soil. Gardens need an 1" of water a week. Buy a rain gauge to determine if the heavens are providing the moisture, or if you need to water (you need to water). Consider drought tolerant plants when making future plant lists.
July Task #3: Start your fall vegetable garden
Summer solstice is our cue to start planning the fall vegetable garden. Your spring vegetable garden can basically be replanted in fall, anything that likes the cooler weather--brocoli, brussel srouts, lettuces, cabbage, cauliflower, and so forth. October 25th is our average first frost date, but some vegetables keep on growing with a light frost and even snow. July and August are the months to get those succession seeds in the ground. Or if you prefer transplants, look for those to arrive in the store soon.
July Task #4: Fertilize Now for Winter
This is the month to fertilize a second (last) time for the landscape plants, then put the fertilizer in a dry place for the winter. You won't need it again until spring. Be sure to water the fertilizer in. Wait much later and you'll get new growth that won't have time to harden off before the cold arrives. Not a good thing.
July Task #5: Scout for the pests
It's Japanese beetle time. Best solution? Hand pick each morning and night, drowning them in a bucket of water. Get squeamish over drowning the hateful things? Try the beetle trap. Yes, it attracts the beetles, but they end up in the trap and not on your plants. It also gives you an idea of how bad the population is. A full bag, go for a long term treatment plan. A few in the bottom of the bag, don't worry about it. For long term treatment, try milky spore that gets rid of the grubs. Remember, we can't eliminate every pest in the garden, but we can manage them. Check out this easy to read USDA report on controlling Japanese beetles.
Finally, raise the mower deck (or just don't mow until we get some rain), as crabgrass will emerge where the grass is too low. Continue to deadhead and in some cases, shear your perennials for fall blooming (gaura, catmint). The store is one big cutting garden right now with all the summer perennials in bloom, so it's the perfect time to fill holes in the borders with some summer show stoppers. Check out our slideshow of perennials here.
Yep, we've hit the doldrums of summer, but the payoffs are coming. Think juicy, red tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and fresh cucumbers come August, and lovely anemones with Joe Pye weed come September. The payoff awaits, people. Don't quit now.
AAP, Cinthia. Happy Fourth of July!
Cinthia Milner is the Garden Coach, blog writer and Outside Sales staff at BB Barns Garden Center.
BB Barns serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.