July Gardening Advice for Manchester – 2016
by Jennifer Fairfield
Editor’s Note: Manchester resident Jennifer Fairfield owns and operates the Garden Mill in Chelsea, serves on the Manchester Community Garden Committee, and volunteers with the school gardens at Klager and the MECC.
If I told you that we received more rain this June than the average June, would you believe me? I wouldn’t! And yet, it’s true. Our average rainfall for June is just under 2 inches, and we received more than 3 inches last month.
But even though numbers don’t lie, they don’t tell the whole truth either. The rain we got in June came in a few big downpours, with big gaps of hot, dry weather in between. We had one storm on the first Saturday of the month that brought an inch and a half of rain to many of us – and created a mudslide on the hill outside my walk-out basement. Then, we didn’t see any appreciable rain again until June 16th, when another storm brought just about an inch of rain.
Getting all that rain in just a couple of downpours isn’t very helpful to our gardens, though. So, I’ve been moving sprinklers around and filling up tree gators on what seems like a daily basis, just to try to keep my flowers, trees, and shrubs alive. My veggie garden has soaker hoses that are on a timer, so I don’t have to think about that too much, though I have actually turned it on for additional soakings more than a few times. The hot temps and wind we’ve had are really drying things out. The weather predictions for this summer are that it will be hotter and drier than normal, so plan to keep watering everything.
July is a great month to be a gardener! In the vegetable garden, it’s the time that many things begin to be harvested and in the perennial garden, it’s a time when lots of flowers are in bloom (my Echinacea is just starting to put on a show, and my bee balm is about to burst – the butterflies and bees are going to have a field day!). All our hard work is starting to really pay off this month. But there’s still more to be done. In the veggie garden:
July should be harvest time for many crops. Spring crops, such as lettuce, spinach, and peas will mostly finish producing this month. while summer crops, such as zucchini, cucumbers, and early tomatoes will just be getting started by the end of the month.
July is also a time for planting and starting new seedlings for fall harvest. If you want to have broccoli and cabbage for fall, start your own inside by no later than July 10th, transplanting the seedlings into your garden when they are four to six weeks old. They should be ready for harvest by early October. These can be good “succession crops” to be put into the garden in place of things like onions and garlic, once those have been harvested.
You can plant late season successions of lettuce, spinach, peas, beets, carrots, and Swiss chard at the end of the month, to be ready for picking before it gets too cold. But wait to plant radishes until early or mid- August, as it will generally still be too hot at this point for these cool-weather lovers (they mature very quickly, and will bolt in the heat of August before they can get big enough for eating).
Don’t forget to water your veggie garden regularly. Your plants generally need about an inch of water every week, and we certainly are not getting that! A good soaking once a week is better than a little bit every day or two, but when the temps are as high as they were last week, accompanied by wind, a little more water is even better. Don’t overdo it, but definitely make sure that your soil doesn’t totally dry out between watering. That’s a great way to stress your plants.
Side dress your summer crops this month. Side dressing is just the simple act of giving your plants a mid-season boost of fertilizer. It provides the plants with a little extra food when they need it most – as they are doing the most growing and as they are producing flowers and fruit. By the time they are ready to start putting out flowers, the plants have used up most of the available nutrition in your garden. Providing a little more fertilizer at this point will make a big difference in whether your garden produces in abundance, which is the point of all this work, isn’t it?! The term side-dressing really just means to apply fertilizer around the plant, in the root zone. Don’t just sprinkle it on top, though – carefully work it into the top inch or so of soil. Fertilizer left on top of the soil often will just wash away before it can break down and be useful to the plant. Don’t get any closer than about four inches from the stem of the plant, as you want the food to be available to the new root growth as the plant is growing and putting out more roots.
Weed. And weed some more. And keep weeding! Weeds compete for water, food, and sunlight with the plants you are working so hard to grow. Don’t let them! If you just do a little bit of regular weeding, you can stay on top of it, and pulling small weeds that don’t have very established roots is a lot easier than pulling bigger ones that have had lots of time to get comfy where they are.
Keep an eye out for insects now, too. I’m seeing cabbage worms on my broccoli, cabbage, and kale. Slugs are apparently taking advantage of the mulch under my plants to hide from the heat of the sun, and then coming out at night to dine on the plants. For the cabbage worms, I’m just picking them off and squishing them. The slugs have gotten a treatment of Espoma’s “Bug and Slug” that we carry at the store. It has definitely slowed them down!
Keep up with your program of fungicide spraying. There are a lot of diseases that really get going as summer progresses, especially on tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. Treating your plants with a fungicide on a regular basis can help keep them from succumbing to disease, which means that you might actually get to eat a lot of what you planted! If you’re not sure how to tell what’s ailing your plants, Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online is a great resource.
Oh, and don’t forget to water!
In the flower garden:
Keeping your flower beds watered is probably going to be your biggest task this month. A close runner up will be keeping insects at bay. Aphids have been a big issue for many of the people coming into the store this season, as well as in my own flower gardens. In my vegetable garden, I reach for the insecticidal soap to combat these pests, as I don’t want to ingest the chemicals. In my flower beds, I may choose something will sometimes use something a little stronger, but there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing pesticides. First, be sure you know what insect you are targeting. Not all insecticides will kill all insects, and some are far more lethal than may be necessary. Second, be aware of when to apply. Different insects are active at different times of day, and some pesticides work best if sprayed directly on the pest. Third, be aware of bee activity in your flowers, and don’t spray any insecticides when you see bees around, or at least do targeted spraying, instead of broadcast spraying, to avoid killing bees.
I came across an insect I had not seen before on my New England Asters last month. Not knowing whether it was a good guy or a bad guy, I had to do some investigating before deciding whether and what to do about it. Some poking around on the web allowed me to identify it as something called a candy-striped leaf hopper. These guys, though pretty cool looking, are not very nice, as they can suck the life out of your plants. So, I pulled out the Espoma Insect Control, and will keep an eye on the plants in that flower bed for a while to make sure they didn’t have any friends.
Be sure to fertilize roses throughout the month, but stop fertilizing at the end of the month to allow the new growth to harden off before winter. Also remove diseased leave immediately, and pick up any that have fallen. These tasks, along with regular fungicide spraying will help keep your roses healthy.
Keep weeds under control, as they compete with your flowers for moisture and nutrients.
Cut back perennials that have finished blooming.
Looking to fill in a spot in the garden quickly? Zinnia seeds planted this weekend will come up in a matter of days in the heat of July, will start producing blooms in just a few weeks, and will provide a beautiful late season show.
To keep your potted annual flowers looking great all summer long, be sure to fertilize them. With frequent watering, fertilizer tends to get flushed out of the container, so regular feedings are a must. Also, don’t forget to deadhead. By removing dead flowers, you encourage the growth of new ones throughout the season.
And don’t forget to water!
Trees & Shrubs:
Regularly water any trees and shrubs planted this year. And if our dry conditions keep up, consider watering any trees and shrubs you planted in past years to keep them from becoming stressed leading into winter. The one thing that is saving me lots of time and effort is the Tree Gators I put around the Rose Buds I planted late last fall. I can fill them up once and not have to think about watering the trees again for a whole week. These wonderful products let the water seep out slowly, which ensures that the water stays at the tree roots, rather than running off.
Do not apply fertilizer to trees or shrubs after the 4th of July, to avoid a flush of new growth that doesn’t have time to harden before winter.
Finish up pruning of trees and shrubs this month or early next. Pruning too late in the season can encourage new growth that will not have time to harden off before winter sets in.
If there is one good thing to say about the lack of rain we have been experiencing, it’s that mowing doesn’t need to be done as frequently. Actually, it’s much harder on the grass to mow it more frequently when it’s dry. Keeping your grass a little higher under these conditions will help it retain moisture.
Actually, there is another good thing to say about the lack of rain. It is much harder for Japanese beetles to lay their eggs successfully in dry soil. That could mean fewer beetles next year!
I just saw my first Japanese beetle last week, quickly followed by about a dozen more a few days later. I’m betting that they won’t be the last. I truly detest these things! The adults are voracious eaters that are not at all picky about what they eat. They will decimate raspberry canes, devour roses, gorge themselves on bean leaves, and basically consume anything in their paths. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the larva of these nasty creatures are the grubs that eat your grass roots, causing patches of brown, dead grass that is decidedly different looking from grass that is dormant. Controlling the adult beetles is a thankless, essentially impossible task. The traps available everywhere mostly just attract the beetles to your yard. There really aren’t any insecticides that are effective against them, either. You can pick them off your plants and throw them into a bucket of soapy water, but if you have a heavy infestation, that becomes a never-ending battle. Your best bet is to control their larvae (grubs), though it’s not an immediate solution. For information on options for controlling grubs, take a look at the Ecological Landscape Alliance’s website.
For the Birds:
Birds need water too! Keep your birdbaths full, and consider putting out additional baths or even filling things like overturned trash can lids or large saucers with water for them. The dry conditions are equally difficult on birds, and they are going to be looking for water wherever they can find it. One place they may find it is in your vegetables. If you are finding holes in tomatoes, zucchini, and other “fruits” in your veggie garden, it may be birds (or other creatures, such as squirrels) looking for moisture. Giving them a source of water may save your harvest. Just be sure to dump the water and refill it every day, to discourage mosquitoes from laying eggs.
Keep hummingbird feeders cleaned out and filled. Sugar water left out in the heat for a number of days can breed bacteria that is harmful to the beautiful birds visiting your feeders, so be sure to clean them out every few days.