July Gardening Tips for the Midwest
Summer in the Midwest garden brings relaxing days and a bounty of harvest, from sun-ripened flavors to pretty-as-a-picture bouquets.
The secret to a long summer flower show is deadheading -- removing dead blooms on annuals, perennials, and roses. Snipping dead blossoms encourages the plant to form more flower buds.
If annuals in your flower garden look scraggly and tired, cut them back by one-third or more. New growth will emerge in time for a late summer show.
Early-summer perennials, such as daisy, campanula, and delphinium, may form more flower buds if you cut plants back after bloom. Remove one-half to one-third of existing growth.
Many late-summer and fall bloomers tend to grow tall and fall over. Flop-prone perennials include aster, goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, and Russian sage. To prevent this, cut plants back by one-third by the first week of July.
Test Garden Tip: Check container gardens daily; water when soil is dry. Give plants a water soluble bloom booster fertilizer every 10-14 days to increase the number of flowers you see.
Taking simple steps will make the most of the time you spend watering planting beds and containers -- conserving water and saving you money.
- Some water waste occurs through evaporation. Eliminate that waste by applying water directly to soil with soaker hoses or a drip tube irrigation system.
- Irrigation timers make watering a hands-free operation. Choose a timer with a rain gauge, and your timer will automatically calibrate irrigation based on local rainfall.
- If you love the latest technology, look into wireless timers that connect to local weather observation stations. The timer adjusts irrigation frequency based on local weather data, including temperature, evaporation rates, and rainfall.
- Repair and replace leaky hoses.
- Take time to watch your automatic sprinkler system. Adjust sprinkler heads so that water lands on planting areas -- not pavement.
- Collect runoff from a home, garage, or shed roof by installing a rain barrel. Buy a barrel with a cover to keep children and wildlife out. Consider elevating the barrel to enhance gravity flow of water.
Reset your automatic irrigation system for summer. Inspect sprinkler patterns; ensure they're not watering driveways or sidewalks. It's best to angle heads low to deliver water to soil.
Grass roots grow 4 to 6 inches deep. To ensure your irrigation system is releasing enough water to soak soil near roots, dig into soil after watering. Or, you can push a screwdriver into soil. It will slip easily into soil that's wet; dry soil offers resistance.
Cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, often go dormant when drought occurs. If your turf goes brown, don't water it to green it up unless you will commit to watering it the rest of the drought. Awakening grass from dormancy uses energy reserves and weakens the lawn. If you let grass remain dormant, it will awaken from dormancy naturally in fall.
Sharpen mower blades regularly to ensure you make clean cuts on grass blades. Time mowing to remove no more than one-third of the leaf surface.
If your lawn or a neighbor's had grubs last year, apply grub control. Beetles are laying eggs now, and grubs will start feeding later this month.
One of the best defenses against lawn weeds is to set your mower high. Keep your turf about 3 inches tall in the summer months. It shades the soil, retaining moisture and blocking seed germination.
For annual-bearing blackberries and raspberries (including wild berry patches), after picking the present crop, cut fruiting canes to the ground. Heap compost around remaining canes.
In strawberry beds, select and mark the biggest, most vigorous plants. These will be next year¿s bearers. Of remaining plants that have grown over the last year, remove all unmarked plants and runners. If you keep the selected plants watered and fertilized, you¿ll have a bumper berry crop next year.
The July Vegetable Garden
- Carrots -- Harvest when they are quarter size or smaller; keep carrot shoulders covered with mulch or soil.
- Green beans -- Harvest when they are about as thick as a pencil.
- Hot peppers -- The longer peppers remain on a plant, the stronger the flavor becomes. Hot peppers get hotter; sweet peppers become sweeter. Many fruits change color as they ripen.
- Potatoes -- New potatoes are ready when plants start to bloom. Spuds are mature when plants turn brown.
- Summer squash -- Pick when young; the smaller the squash, the more tender it is.
- Tomatoes -- The richest flavor develops when fruits ripen on the vine. Keep animals from sampling your harvest by covering fruits with netting.
Pests and Problems
Clean up as you harvest. Toss overgrown or rotting produce on the compost heap. And remove dying plant matter, such as pea vines. All attract diseases and pests.
If tomato leaves start disappearing, look beneath remaining foliage for a large green caterpillar, the tomato hornworm. Handpick worms and drop into soapy water, or squish them. Hornworms covered with white tic tac-looking things have been issued a death sentence. The tic tacs are cocoons of a predatory wasp. Let the cocoons hatch, and your garden will be filled with tiny, non-stinging wasps that feast on pests.
Japanese beetles love to feast on dying flowers and overripe fruit. Remove spent flower blossoms and ripe fruits from the garden. Bump adult beetles into soapy water, where they'll die. Don't hang Japanese beetle traps: If you do, you run the risk of attracting more beetles than you already have.
When the leaves of cabbage family crops (cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts) become riddled with holes, caterpillars are likely the culprit. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterium, provides natural caterpillar control. When a caterpillar bites into a leaf coated with Bt, the bacteria enters the worm¿s gut, eventually eating the caterpillar from the inside out.
Add a birdbath and birdhouse to attract birds to your garden. Birds provide natural insect control, eating the pests that bug your plants.