Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July Gardening Chores

With all the rain we have had this June, watering has not been a big issue in the garden. But the lack of sun has presented some challenges. Many sun-loving annuals (Including vegetables) are significantly smaller than normal at this time of year, new grass has not filled out (lawns need water and sun to get established) and many plants are infected with powdery mildew, fungi and rusts. Treat these infected plants now, clip off and discard the damaged leaves. Also wash your pruning shears after doing so, to reduce the spread of infection to other plants in your yard.
With July on the way, watering will probably take a front seat in the garden chores department again. And proper watering techniques are crucial to your plants continued health and growth though the summer. Long, soaking watering sessions a few times a week is best. These deep soakings are best for most plants and plantings other than germinating seeds. Use soaker hoses or other ground level sprinklers to quickly get the water where the plants need it – to the roots. Running your lawn sprinklers 
at mid-day, in full sun on a hot day, is not efficient watering. Most of the water will evaporate before it reaches the roots of your thirsty plants. This can also scorch the leaves of many garden plants, similar to applying baby oil to your skin and running around in full sun.

“Volcano Mulching” is NOT a good mulching practice. 
This method of mulching is actually the exact opposite of any known proper mulching technique. Mulch SHOULD NOT touch the bark or trunks of trees and shrubs, applying mulch in this fashion will only invite mildew, fungus, insects and diseases to move in. Also if the mulch is highest around the trunk and lowest at the outside drip line, you are pushing all the water away from the tree or shrub 
roots. “Proper Mulching” (about 2” to 3” deep) should be flush to grade or create a “water well” (small lip of mulch encircling the trunk) about 
the same width as the root ball. Mulching in this Proper Mulching fashion can help reduce water evaporation at the root level where plants need it the most, it helps keep down weeds (which compete with your plants for sun, water and other nutrients; and it keeps the soil temperature up to 25’ cooler which promotes better root development.

Also if you are heading off on vacation this month, mow and water your lawn before you leave. When mowing your lawn follow the 1/3 rule. Cut no more than 1/3 of the grass blade in a 
single mowing. This reduces the stress to the remaining blade and ensures the clippings are small enough to be left in place for ‘mulching’ as they quickly decompose. The best schedule I have found is to water your lawn in the early morning and then mow in the early evening. This way cut 
blades are not exposed to the drying heat of the day.

Other garden chores for July: Prune sucker growths on tomato plants, for the best fruit production. Suckers are additional shoots, which form where a leaf connects to the main stem. And to avoid blossom rot or cracking of the tomato skin, keep the soil around your tomato plants evenly moist. Mulching can help.

When harvesting blueberries, remember to leave them on the bush for several days after they have turned blue for the sweetest flavor. Netting your bushes will help prevent the birds from eating your berries before you do.

Deadheading (removing spent blooms) of many annuals and perennials will encourage repeat blooms. Also an aggressive prune of many perennials such as Nepeta and Salvia now, will promote new growth and flowers for late summer.

And towards the end of this month, stop watering any Amaryllis you are trying to hold over from last winter (even if it has green leaves), and move them to a cool, dark spot (unfinished basement is what I use). Leave the bulbs in their pots untended until October. A colleague of mine recommended turn the pots on their side so you don’t accidentally water them.

Thank you to everyone who has sent in ‘Questions for Cory’, keep those great questions coming.
Q. I have a Bleeding Heart on the side of my house along the driveway, next to a row of large Hostas. It was the first plant to show it's head this spring with lots of beautiful deep pink blossoms. It looked so healthy and vibrant, but now the leaves are starting to look dried out (even though I water when we don't get a lot of rain). Do you know what this could be or what I can do?
A. I suspect your first instinct is correct, and your Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is drying out. Dicentra is a great shade plant, like Hosta, but it is a bit pickier about soil. Dicentra prefers cool and moist soil, and being next to a driveway can be a tough location. Even if you are watering, in the summer the sun heats up the driveway and that heat dries the surrounding soil. If (after the past week of cool and rainy weather) the plant perks up, and you can see new growth at the soil level, this would be a good indicator that your Dicentra should be moved. Try Narcissus (Daffodils) in the same location for an early spring bloom, they did not mind the dry summer soil.