Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Almanac: July-August 2018

by cathym on July 2, 2018

Buddy the Boston terrier helping to move plants, Rush, NY.

The dog days of summer are upon us. Ever wonder where that expression came from? Is it because it’s too hot even for a dog to get up and run around? Not exactly. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the dog days start July 3 and run for 40 days, ending August 11. This coincides with the rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. Regardless of how the saying started or where it came from, we all think of this time of year as hot and sultry. Consider doing your gardening chores first thing in the morning or in the cool of the evening rather than in the heat of the day.

Watering Needs
In the heat of the summer, monitor your new plantings for watering needs. A general rule of thumb is that plants need one inch of water per week. If Mother Nature does not provide it, you need to. Drip or trickle irrigation will deliver water directly to the root zone, which is great for vegetable plants. If they do not get adequate water, your vegetables will not develop normally. Try to water early in the day so the foliage has a chance to dry off by nightfall. Wet foliage can lead to disease issues. Using mulch will help maintain soil moisture and help keep weeds—which will steal moisture and nutrients from your plants—down. Avoid frequent, light watering. Instead, water deeply at wider intervals and let the water soak in. This will encourage new roots to grow deeper into the soil. Don’t forget to water trees and shrubs that have been planted in the last three years. They are still establishing their root systems. During periods of drought, street trees can also use a drink.

Daylily care during July
Peak bloom is usually during the month of July. Removing spent blooms (deadheading) daily keeps daylilies looking great. While deadheading, check for pests or diseases, and also remove any unsightly foliage. Once blooms are done you can remove the scapes for a nicer appearance. This is also a good time to make note of any daylilies that may need to be divided once they are done blooming or in the fall.

Houseplants
July and August is a good time to give houseplants a rest. Keep them watered and in a shady spot. Growth may slow down a bit as they rest. Tropical plants on the other hand need the sun but afternoon shade is always a nice respite for all plants. Water is a must along with good drainage. 

Lawns
Many of our lawns are made up of Kentucky bluegrass, which is a cool-season plant. Hot, dry summers stress it out. Without rain or irrigation, it will go dormant and turn brown until more favorable conditions arrive in autumn. Mow grass one-half inch higher than usual during the summer months to help conserve soil moisture. Do not remove clippings from the lawn unless the grass is excessively tall or weedy. Clippings return some nutrients to the soil and do not add to thatch buildup. When watering lawns, you should apply one to one-and-a-half inches of water in a single application per week. Keep newly established lawn watered during dry weather. Allow water to penetrate deeply into the soil rather than watering frequently and lightly. Frequent, light sprinklings encourage roots to stay shallow, making them more susceptible to drought.

Annuals
Annuals are great for color throughout the summer. To keep them flowering, deadhead spent flowers and pinch back lanky annuals to encourage new growth and more blossoms. Coleus flowers should also be removed. When watering add a bit of fertilizer, especially to container plantings. If you have annuals that are distorted or oddly colored they may be infected with a virus. To prevent viruses from spreading to healthy plants remove the infected ones and put them in the garbage, not the compost pile.

Vegetables
In the vegetable garden, this is prime harvest time. Pick ripe fruits and vegetables to encourage more production. Fertilize producing crops, but avoid too much on tomatoes. Late crops in the garden like squash and cucumbers need fertilizer to keep producing. Sweet corn could be showing signs of earworms so treat as necessary. Pinch out basil flowers to keep the plants producing foliage. As space becomes available plant seeds or seedlings of cool-weather, short-season crops like lettuce, radish and spinach that will mature before a hard frost.

Pest Problems
You may find yourself trying to outsmart the local wildlife this summer. Depending upon what types of fruits and vegetables you are growing, July and August can be a prime month for four legged pest problems. Rabbits enjoy salad greens and squirrels like tomatoes as much as we do, birds will devour your fruit, and deer may nibble on anything they find. You may need to erect a sturdy fence around your garden if you haven’t already. Bird netting can help deter birds from stealing your fruit before you can pick it.

Remain vigilant and continue pulling those weeds. Be ready to attack any weeds that plague your garden. Try not to let them go to seed! Don’t put weeds that have gone to seed in your compost pile. Unless your compost pile heats up, those seeds will survive only to cause problems next year.

Be on the lookout for the beginning of late blight in your tomatoes and potatoes. USABlight.org tracks confirmed cases of late blight. By checking the site you can track its progress from the southern states and take precautions when it makes it to New York. Late blight is considered to be a “community” disease and should not be ignored. Infected plants should be destroyed so that they do not continue to spread the disease. Fungicides need to be applied preventively for late blight. Chlorothalonil is the most effective conventional fungicide available to gardeners to help prevent plants from becoming infected. For organic production a copper fungicide is recommended. When using any pesticide always read and understand the label.

Misc.
Take a walk around the garden and photograph it. Take photos from different sight lines. This can help you notice holes or sad plants that need replacement or a better location. It is also a great way to document the garden for future reference.

August is a great month to find bargain plants at nurseries and garden centers. Look for season extending plants to add to your garden for autumn awesomeness. Start planning for fall planting. Containerized plants are a safe bet if you keep them watered. August is also the “last call” if you are ordering spring flowering bulbs to plant in the garden or for forcing indoors. Get your orders in so your bulbs arrive at the proper time for fall planting.

Take advantage of all the garden tours going on as many of them are free. What better way to be inspired than to learn from other gardeners? Buffalo Garden Walk is July 28 and 29, from 10 am to 4 pm. Check out Open Gardens on Thursdays in July or look for other weekend community garden tours. Listings can be found at https://gardensbuffaloniagara.com/.

This summer sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Better yet, float in the pool!

—Jan Beglinger and the Genesee County Master Gardeners

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