Believe it or not, there’s work to do in the garden in July! And not just mowing the lawn. One thing we can usually count on is that July will be hot, and usually drier than other months. That is why gardening activities begin to slow down, or should I say, the gardener begins to slow down in the July heat!
Take advantage of cooler mornings to get your yard work done. Take frequent breaks, and drink lots of water to avoid heat-related medical problems.
The Vegetable Patch. After you celebrate the 4th with East Texas watermelons and fireworks, get ready to start the fall vegetable garden. Even though we call it the “fall” garden because that’s when harvest occurs, we need to begin planting this month to give certain crops time to grow and mature before cold, cloudy weather arrives.
So, start preparing the garden site. Get rid of weeds, fertilize the soil according to a soil test and plan the fall garden. Group frost-sensitive crops (like tomatoes and peppers) together so it will be easier to protect them from an early, light freeze.
Crops to be transplanted or seeded in July include southern peas (early July), cantaloupe, pepper, eggplant and tomato transplants, cantaloupe, watermelon, summer and winter squash.
Lawn Care. The summer heat has a way of sapping your strength and slowing down outdoor activity. However, at least one gardening activity doesn’t slow down, but rather speeds up in summer, and that’s mowing the lawn! Warm season grasses love hot weather, and grow rapidly at this time. A key to a high quality lawn is to keep it out of stress. For the densest, healthiest grass, it should be mowed frequently and at the proper height. How often you cut it depends on how fast it is growing, because you shouldn’t remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade at any one time to prevent stress.
The bad news is that during the summer, when lawns are making rapid growth, you would have to mow approximately every 5 or 6 days to observe the “1/3 rule.” That makes mowing only on weekends a problem. If you find you will be removing more than 1/3 of the blade, raise the mower deck a notch.
Another stress on turf is mowing with a dull blade. Check the ends of the grass blades after mowing. They should have a straight, clean cut. If they are ragged or frayed looking, it’s time to sharpen or replace the blade. This will improve the appearance of your lawn, and reduce opportunities for disease organisms to invade.
Speaking of pests, watch out for 2 problems common to St. Augustinegrass during the summer. Gray leaf spot may be showing up now. Nighttime watering, frequent rainfall, high humidity, heavy dew (resulting in prolonged leaf wetness), plus rapid, lush growth are ideal conditions for this fungus. Allowing the grass to grow tall between mowing can also increase disease development.
One symptom of lawns with severe gray leaf spot will be areas that seem to just fade or melt away. The decline often starts in shaded locations and low spots with poor drainage. Individual leaf spots are typically elongated with dark margins.
Management practices are very important for gray leaf spot control. 1) Do not over-fertilize; 2) Do not water at night; 3) Mow frequently; 4) Catch clippings in problem areas.
Chinch bugs can multiply rapidly in warm weather. Chinch bugs are very small, so you usually don’t know they are feeding on your grass until symptoms show up. Their feeding injury causes St. Augustine grass to look like it is in drought stress, needing water, but it does not recover after irrigation. Their damage usually starts in the hotter, drier, sunnier parts of the yard. Keep an eye out for these symptoms.
Other Gardening Tips. Prune hydrangeas right after bloom if you need to cut them back. Flower buds are formed in late summer and early fall; late fall and winter pruning removes these future blooms. Lightly trim back salvias to keep them bushy and stimulate even more blooms.
Blackberries should be pruned now that harvest is ending. Remove the dying fruiting canes and tip back the vigorous, new growth. This new growth will bear the fruit for next year.
Plants in containers and hanging baskets need to be frequently watered in the summer to keep them from drying out. All this water leaches out plant nutrients from the soil. Use a water-soluble fertilizer regularly to keep your plants growing and healthy.
Direct-seed zinnias and portulaca, and purchase plants of periwinkle, salvia, marigold, gomphrena, cleome (spider flower), coleus and purslane. Be sure to water transplants as needed until roots become established.
Copper plants set out now will have a chance to grow larger before they turn a beautiful copper color with the cooler weather of fall.
Summer blooming perennials (like mallow hibiscus) and annuals can be induced to bloom more if you will remove flowers as they fade. The plant’s energy required to ripen seed will be then be redirected to produce new flowers for your enjoyment.
A loose, well-aerated layer of weed-free mulch, such as chopped straw, pine needles, leaves, chipped tree trimmings, or bark will make gardening life much easier. A three inch layer of mulch will not only conserve soil moisture, but also help keep the soil cooler and free of ugly, competitive weeds. Mulch your container plants, too – they won’t dry out as fast.
Plants with shallow roots are especially susceptible to drying out in the summer. Azaleas, camellias and dogwoods are some of the more common plants that need frequent watering and a protective mulch.
One of the more damaging, and wasteful, practices of summer is watering for a few minutes every few days. Light irrigation promotes a shallow root system which can easily be injured by summer drought. Apply water slowly over a longer period of time to allow the soil to be wetted to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. This will promote a deeper, more extensive, healthy root system. Physically check the soil next time you water to find out how deep you are watering. This will also help you to water less often.