No landscape is exempt from this July realization: We over-planted, put full sun plants in shade and shade plants in the 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. Here’s your July garden chores
Review the Garden
The plants have hit their summer climax, so now is the time to determine where the holes are and what needs transplanting, consolidating, pruning, or completely removed because it’s a jungle out there. Editing and planning are best done when it’s all visible and fighting for space or large holes loom. Decide now, but remember some of those tasks are best performed in the fall. Transplanting is a fall or early spring job. Removal and pruning are fine now but do look around and see what will be disturbed, and is it best to wait until late fall to cut down the tree that is currently shading your woodland garden? If it’s a danger, go ahead. If it’s an annoyance, maybe wait, and use this time to consider what happens with the woodland garden.
Rule of thumb for perennials; if it 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.
Don’t forget to complete the 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. It should be done immediately after blooming because this late in the season will give fewer blooms for next year, but if necessary, to manage for size, go ahead. Read here for pruning instructions, and remember you can prune now if crowding and competing plants are out of hand, but only 1/3 of the plant may be removed at a time.
And FYI: For size, I mean it is hanging out in the driveway, laying on the walking path, or suffocating the roses?
Weeding and Watering
While you’re reviewing and note-taking, double-check your beds weekly. Where is that problem spot the weeds have overtaken? I’ve got a doozy. A corner where bittersweet and poison ivy reign, along with weeds I’ve yet to identify. I’m slowly regaining control.
Make a plan for getting those places cleaned up. Don’t wait until fall, when you’ll do the fall cleanup 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 the plastic and dead weeds, lay down newspapers or corrugated cardboard, moisten it with water, weigh it down with rocks and cover it 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 have to 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.
With this heat, plants dry out quicker than we realize, and new plantings haven’t developed deep root systems to compete for water on drier days. 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).
Start your fall vegetable garden
The summer solstice is our cue to start planning the fall vegetable garden. October 25 is our average first frost date, but some vegetables keep growing with a light frost and even snow. Your spring vegetable garden can be replanted in fall with anything that likes the cooler weather–broccoli, Brussel sprouts, lettuces, cabbage, cauliflower, and so forth. 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.
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. The key word here is landscape plants. Please continue to water your annuals, blooming perennials, and blooming plants (hydrangeas) with Bloom Booster once every 7-10 days. This fertilizing is for your landscape plants. The first fertilization was in March (hopefully, but if it wasn’t, do it now and mark March for next year) and this will be the last time for the growing season. Be sure to water the fertilizer. If we fertilize much later into fall, new growth occurs that doesn’t have time to harden off before the cold arrives. Do not fertilize after August 1.
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 a milky spore that removes the grubs. Discuss this program with Marshall Van Hoy, our garden products expert. Remember, we can’t eliminate every pest in the garden, but we can manage them. For more information on how to manage them, read here about Integrated Pest Management. It’s an important subject and very helpful to our garden and its ecology, so go ahead and click on the link, boring as it sounds.
And for a good, user-friendly book on diagnosing what is wrong with a plant. What’s Wrong With My Plant (and How Do I Fix It?)
A Few Miscellaneous Items and May I Continue to Plant?
Raise the mower deck, as crabgrass will emerge where the grass is too low. Continue to deadhead your perennials, and begin cutting back yellowing plant material.
Don’t forget fall blooms. The store is one big cutting garden with all the summer perennials in bloom, so it’s the perfect time to fill holes in the borders with some summer show-stoppers. Anemones, Joe Pye weed, asters, toad lilies, helenium, American beautyberry, and caropyteris are all worth the sweat to plant for fall enjoyment. Check out our slideshow of perennials here.
Isn’t fall the best time to plant? The answer is yes. Soil temperatures stay warmer than air temperatures as fall progresses, allowing root development over shoot development, and cooler temperatures are less stressful for plants. But, two words apply here, availability and time. Not all plants are available in the fall. Flowering shrubs and perennials aren’t as readily available (or not at all) in fall, so if you want to purchase new hydrangeas, now is the time. And, waiting until September to plant them isn’t a good idea. Timing plays a part in your planting—and so does your schedule. If now is when you can plant, then now is when you plant. The goal is to be vigilant about watering and check your plants daily.
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 a landscape consultant and blog writer for B.B. Barns Garden Center.
B.B. Barns Garden Center serves all Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.