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Summer is Finally Here in the Garden

Green and black striped caterpillar walks along a green parsley plant.
The caterpillars enjoy parsley, boding well for black swallowtail butterflies fluttering in the garden later this summer.

Here it is July and my lettuce is finally bolting - what a unique season this has been! 

In zones 6 and 7, it is time to replace the cool season leafy greens in the vegetable garden with warm season crops such as okra, eggplant, squashes, lima beans, and southern peas, or start a second crop of carrots! Mulch the garden well with straw to hold in moisture so the newly sown seeds germinate and thrive. Inspect all gardens daily and quickly address issues by removing the afflicted leaf or squishing bugs on the plant or flicking beetles into soapy water. 

Nitrogen is a primary nutrient for plants; it is necessary in keeping plants green and healthy. This nutrient is also water soluble, and excessive recent rains have leached it from the soil. To keep plants thriving, apply a slow release fertilizer to all garden beds, containers and hanging baskets to replace the nitrogen that has leached out recently. Some plants, like roses, are heavy feeders and thrive when fertilized once a month. Place the fertilizer where it is needed by gently working it into the soil at the base of the plant.  

In the herb garden, it's a battle to keep up with removing the blossoms of herbs being grown for their leaves, such as basil, mint and oregano. Flowers will affect the flavor of the leaves and green stems, so it is best to remove the flowers once they begin to appear at the tips of the plant and in the leaf axis. Constant trimming of growth will stimulate more new growth and less flowering. I have to admit after a morning spent in the garden, iced tea flavored with sprigs of fresh mint and a bit of sugar is a favorite drink of mine on a hot summer afternoon.

Some flowering shrubs of June can be kept flowering with a bit of deadheading, just remember to sterilize your hand pruners between the different plants.  Vitex sp., sterile cultivars of Buddleia sp. (or butterfly bush), and Viburnums will flush with new blossoms if the old spent blossoms are continually removed. 

In early July, hydrangeas spread their influence across the landscape. The white blossoms of H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’ glow in the sunlight, while the blooms of the Oakleaf hydrangea, H. quercifolia, fade to a soft bespeckled pink. 

The blues and pinks of H. macrophylla brighten the garden with their soft hues that deepen with time. I deadhead hydrangeas once the flowers have faded to brown, enjoying the changing hues as their colors slowly fade away.

Tending a flowering border in the summer is a daily exercise. Carefully trimming back overzealous plants to allow the more timid growers their portion of sunshine is necessary to enable all plants to grow and bloom. Learn how to tend to each plant: for example, in early July, cut back to just a few inches all Catmint or Nepeta sp.. This soft gray green-leafed perennial will flush with new growth and the blue blossoms will grace the garden a second time later this summer.  I also cut down by 2/3rds fall blooming chrysanthemums and tall growing goldenrod. This will promote branching and create an abundant floral display come fall. While working in the border, inspect the underside of leaves for egg masses or insects, and look for chewed leaves or new leaf spots. Removing a diseased leaf or trimming a bit of plant growth infested with aphids early on is simple and quick. Address the issue early for quick control and then sterilize the pruners used by spraying them with 70% isopropyl alcohol.

With rain water soaking deep into the soil, improve the root growth of the lawn by raising the mower blade to four inches. The taller the grass blade, the deeper the roots grow, with the end result of a healthier lawn that is also more drought tolerant. The taller fuller grass will also shade the soil preventing weed seeds from germinating.  While mowing, keep an eye out for brown circles or other abnormalities that may signal disease. This unique season has provided the perfect conditions for brown patch and summer patch.

Never forget to take care of yourself as well - always grab your wide brimmed hat, your gloves, water bottle on your way out the door, and don’t forget the sunscreen, too. The simple act of shading your neck, ears, face, and the top of your head has proven to reduce or prevent skin cancer. Find a wide brimmed hat that is comfortable and then please wear it.

On the hottest of days, stay inside to plan the fall vegetable garden which will be sown in August, or make notes about your garden in July.  July is also the best time to order tulips and daffodils for planting this fall. 


Happy Gardening! 




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