This time of year, working in the garden can be nearly impossible at any time except early morning. As much as possible, work some morning garden grooming into your schedule.
When the mercury rises, plants struggle to stay hydrated. Providing plants with adequate moisture ensures more than seasonal good looks -- it's a key to long-term health. Try these tips to make the most of your irrigation efforts:
For most non-drought tolerant trees and shrubs, provide a deep watering every 10 to 14 days. This means wetting the soil to at least 8 inches deep. Dig down to see how far moisture is soaking in, or simply slip a screwdriver into soil. In moist soil, the blade will slide easily.
The best times to water are early morning or early evening. If you water during the heat of the day, you lose more moisture to evaporation, instead of soaking soil.
Keep a close eye on gardens very near or directly under mature trees, especially shallow-rooted species such as maples and poplars. The trees' large root systems absorb the majority of water from the soil.
During the heat of the summer, it can be tough to keep up with container gardens. Set up a drip-irrigation system; it's an easy, inexpensive weekend project that will save you a lot of time and effort over the course of the season.
Pay attention to automated irrigation systems while they're running. Look for sprinkler heads that aren't working properly or are misdirected, watering streets, sidewalks, or driveways.
For vegetable gardens or planting beds, consider installing soaker hoses, which deliver water directly to soil.
Wildlife in the July Garden
The summer garden wouldn't be complete without butterflies, hummingbirds, and birds to enhance the daily color show. Many of the flowers in bloom now beckon butterflies.
To make your yard extra attractive to butterflies, consider host plants, as well as nectar plants. Host plants are those species the caterpillars eat. For example, monarch caterpillars feast on milkweed species (Asclepias); black swallowtail caterpillars prefer to munch on fennel, parsley, dill, and Queen Anne's lace.
Test Garden Tip: If you don't want the unsightly look of munched leaves in your garden, place these host plants in the back of the border where you won't notice them as readily.
Tuck birdbaths into a semi-shady spot to slow evaporation and keep water from overheating. Change water frequently to prevent mosquitoes from breeding; scrub with bleach weekly to prevent spreading diseases.
If mosquitoes and other flying insects make your evenings outdoors less enjoyable, put up a bat house. Bats consume mosquitoes, flies, and other insects.
Trees and Shrubs
Here are some of the top trees and shrubs that require care in July.
Removing spent flowers on crape myrtle trees will help them rebloom more quickly.
Leaves that are dark and sooty or charcoal gray probably have sooty mold growing on them. This fungus doesn't attack the tree, but results from an aphid or other insect infestation that occurred in late May-early June. Control the mold now by spraying a horticultural oil. Next year, treat plants for aphids in May.
Resist the urge to prune your crape myrtles now (except to remove any dead or diseased branches). The best time to trim these trees is in late winter or early spring.
Spring-blooming azaleas are forming next year's flower buds now, so avoid any pruning. Keep the soil around your azaleas evenly moist to fuel flower formation.
Check mulch around plants. Refresh it to maintain a 2-inch-thick layer if necessary.
Apply a slow-release fertilizer with extra iron to soil surrounding azaleas. Be sure to water it in.
Garden Chores for the South in July
If you pinch your garden mums to keep them compact, stop by mid-month. Apply a slow-release fertilizer to soil around plants about July 15 to spur growth and flower formation.
Continue to remove spent blooms from roses and prune canes as needed to control growth. Both of these practices will promote fall flowering.
Don't worry about fertilizing roses, however. Let them take a little break during the heat of the summer.
If you cut roses or other flowers for bouquets, do so in the early morning, when it's cool. The flowers will last longer after being cut.
Try not to let herbs such as basil, mint, and oregano bloom. Flower formation changes the herb¿s flavor to a less-than-ideal state. Keep pinching the plants back to keep them fresh.
Don't let ripe vegetables rot on the vine or on the ground around your plants. They attract pests and can harbor diseases.
Some vegetables will stop producing in the heat. If they're dying, remove them. Otherwise, keep them watered and wait for production to resume in the fall.
Keep an eye out for weeds -- even though it's hot, weeds continue to grow.
If you have a garden journal, keep up with it. Most garden journals drop off as the season progresses, but it's a useful tool 12 months of the year.