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 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, 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, full of weeds, and in a full-on battle for space. 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? The plants have hit their summer climax, so now is the time to determine what needs planting, 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. (You may need to flag plants to remember their location as perennials begin to die back.) For how to divide perennials, read here.
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 to give enough time for the plants to grow new wood and set buds for next year.)
July Task #2: Weeding and Watering
While you're reviewing and note taking, double check your beds weekly. Where is that problem spot the weeds have overtaken 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. Clear the larger plants by digging them out, then cover the area with plastic sheets to fry the smaller 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. A good book for weed identification? Weeds of North America. A good internet site for weed id? Rutgers Weed Gallery, where you can identify weeds by picture. Know your enemy.
And though we've had rain this season, your new plantings still need watering. Remember to water at soil level, 2x a week, depending on rainfall (an inch of rainfall a week is necessary or you need to water). With this heat, plants dry out quicker than we realize (yes even with this humidity), and new plantings haven't developed deep root systems yet to compete for water on drier days.
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--broccoli, Brussel sprouts, 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 and last time for the landscape plants, then put your fertilizer in a dry place for the winter. You won't need it again until spring. Be sure to water the fertilizer in. Fertilize much later into fall, and you'll get new growth that won't have time to harden off before the cold arrives. Don't fertilize after August 1.
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 fret about it. For long term treatment, try milky spore that gets rid of the grubs. Discuss this program with Ian Farthing, our garden products expert. Remember, we can't eliminate every pest in the garden, but we can manage them.
July Task #6: A few Miscellaneous Items
Raise the mower deck, as crabgrass will emerge where the grass is too low. Continue to deadhead your perennials, and begin cutting back plant material that is yellowing.
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. Don't forget fall blooms. Anemones, joe pye weed, asters, toad lilies, helenium, American beautyberry, caropyteris, all worth the sweat to plant for fall enjoyment.
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.
Cinthia Milner is the garden coach and blog writer for B.B. Barns Garden Center.
B.B. Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.