July: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Alright, y’all. It’s July. This is the Piedmont of North Carolina. ‘Nuff said. Except … we’re gardeners and we must garden! Heat? Humidity? It’s all just more stuff to keep our horticultural minds busy. Does a fungus love heat and humidity? Yes it does. Does your water bill go through the roof trying to keep stuff alive just so it can drown in the next thunderstorm? Probably. Can you keep up with the aphid, spider mite and lacebug outbreaks? Hopefully!

But wait. Remember the 70-degree days we enjoyed in February? Can’t get that in New Hampshire or New York or Nebraska or North Dakota, or a whole host of other states. Then think ahead to October.  Will we worry about snow then? Will our growing season have ended? Nope! Sure it’s hot and humid now, but we can escape to the sea for a breeze or to the mountains for some cooler temps. Yessirree, give me North Carolina every time, thank you very much. Now let’s go out in the yard and be grateful.

Lawn Care
Fertilize warm season grasses (Bermuda, Zoysia and St. Augustine) if you haven’t already. When mowing these lawns remove one-third of the growth. Change directions with each mowing to strengthen root systems and expose different side of the blades to sunlight.

Fertilizing
Continue side-dressing your vegetable garden plants. July is the last time to fertilize landscape plants until next year.

This is an excellent time to take soil samples especially from your lawn. Sample boxes and instructions can be obtained from the extension office.  It is a FREE service until November.

Planting
Veggies that can still be planted include Brussels sprouts, collards, beans, carrots, tomatoes and pumpkins.

A young Brussels sprout plant, ‘Long Island Improved,’ one of three varieties that perform satisfactorily in N.C.  The others are Jade Cross E Hybrid and Royal Marvel. About 85 to 95 days are required from field seeding or transplanting to maturity.

Get ready for the fall garden by starting broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower plants to be transplanted in mid-August.

July is also a good time to transplant overgrown houseplants.

Pruning
– “Bleeder” trees like maple, dogwood, birch and elm can be pruned this month.

– Overgrown hedges can be pruned.

– Coniferous evergreens (they make cones with seeds in them) can be pruned.

– Raspberry and blackberry fruiting canes can be cut to the ground following harvest.

– Rhododendrons, azaleas (I know that’s redundant) and blueberries can have the dieback removed.

– Keep garden mums pinched until mid-month.

– Remove faded blooms on perennials to encourage a second blooming.

Spraying
Insects to be watchful for include bag worms, leaf miners, aphids, spider mites and lace bugs. Oh, yeah.  Japanese beetles, duh. Watch tomatoes for signs of blight and spray as necessary. Continue with rose program. Also continue fungicide program for bunch grapes and fruit trees.

Vegetable pests to watch for:  cucumber beetle (cucumber, ironically enough), flea beetle (tomato, eggplant and beans) and aphids (everything).

Only use pesticides when necessary and ALWAYS follow the label instructions.

There’s not too many extra things to do this month unless you want to build cold frames and greenhouses to be ready for next winter. I recommend you kick back on the deck in the evening with a cool beverage and enjoy summer in this goodly state. 

Further Reading
Browse, or search, Horticultural information leaflets from NC State Extension:  https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/catalog/series/73/

Learn more about Brussel sprouts – https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/brussels-sprouts

Photo credit: Downtowngal, no changes made:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Young_brussels_sprouts_plant.jpg

To Do in January

Happy New Year, y’all!!  Let’s garden! Well, let’s plan to garden. From the looks of the recent weather forecasts (past, present and future), it would appear to be a great year to plant cattails, rice and water lilies. Claude Monet would be pleased. Maybe this is the year to seriously consider a rain garden. There are usually two or three local hands-on workshops on this very topic. In the meantime, here’s what to do until we can get back to playing in the dirt.

Lawn Care
Continue trying to keep the leaves from accumulating on the turf.

Think about how you could change your landscape to eliminate some (or all) of your grass. It is after all the most expensive planting in the yard and the most ecologically unsustainable. Just sayin’.

Fertilizing
Not much here either unless you need a place to dump wood ashes. You can spread them on the veggie garden, bulb beds, or non-acid loving shrub beds if the pH is low, <6.0.

Planting
See introductory paragraph. Should the soil dry out enough to actually be workable, asparagus crowns can be planted now.

Pruning
Sharpen those hand pruners and loppers and go to work! Here’s your get-out-of-the-house excuse.  Studies have shown that January pruning cuts heal more rapidly than those made in other months. So, take down those branches overhanging the house and the ones that shade that corner of the garden.  Cut back those misshapen or overgrown shrubs.

Please prune the branches individually to shape the plant. Unless you are trying to recreate Buckingham or Versailles Palaces, leave the power hedge clippers where they are. Shearing is not the best thing you can do for a plant. However, if you must shear, be sure the finished product is wider at the base than at the top. This allows sunlight to reach the lower leaves and will keep the plant looking full from top to bottom.

When pruning entire branches of anything make the cut at the outside of the branch collar (flared area at the branch origin).

Spraying
Spray only if the plants you brought indoors for the winter brought unwanted guests with them. Light horticultural oils or insecticidal soap should be safe and effective treatments. If you can run them outside on a warmish dryish day so much the better. READ THE LABEL!

How to stay warm and dry ‘til March without incurring cabin fever induced insanity.
The warm part usually isn’t too difficult. Wear warm clothes while you prune and plan. Or when it is just too gross to go outside delve into those seed catalogs (some more), break out the Kindle (or a real book) and I recommend a hot beverage of your choosing.

The dry part might present a major challenge this winter. Many of us are no longer spry enough to actually dodge the raindrops. For those of us who are fashion-challenged anyway, a full rain suit (preferably in bright yellow) and tall rubber boots will offer shelter from even the worst deluge. For another option see last sentence previous paragraph.

Cheer up! The days are already getting longer and March is just two months away!

— Gary Crispell