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

Almanac: What to do in the Garden in July & August

by janem on July 1, 2014

JULY

In the food garden:

Cut off those curly garlic scapes and use them for garlic pesto or stir-fries. Doing so will encourage larger garlic bulbs.

Protect your berries from the birds with bird netting. If some berries look moist or misshapen, check them for the maggots of the Spotted Wing Drosophila, a new fruit fly pest. Remove decaying fruit to help minimize your fruit fly populations. Also look out for another new pest, the marmorated stinkbug.

Keep your food plants weeded, watered, and mulched. Blueberry bushes are particularly sensitive to drought. A five-gallon bucket with tiny holes in the bottom, next to each bush, provides an easy way to water and measure how much water you’re applying (10 gallons each is good in drought situations, once or twice a week).

Keep tomato branches inside cages, and guide melon and squash vines.

This is the last month to plant these veggies for a fall crop if you are in zone 5: snap beans, peas, cukes, carrots, kohlrabi, summer squash, early sweet corn and green onions, among others. Zone 6 gardeners get a couple more weeks of growing season.

Time to renew or move the strawberry bed. Moving the plants allows a thorough weed removal, and then there’s still time to plant a succession crop (see above).

Keep the asparagus bed weeded.

To maximize basil harvest and prevent blooming, cut plants back by one-third, rather than just plucking leaves. This can probably be done 3 times, thus avoiding having to start new plants from seed. If you grow basil in containers, you can overwinter a few plants on a warm sunny windowsill (ditto for parsley, which can take your cooler windowsill).

Handpick conspicuous pests such as Japanese beetles, Colorado potato beetles, and so on. Look for the eggs of insect pests on the undersides of leaves. Use Bt on cabbage family plants, but judiciously. Remember it will also kill the caterpillars of desirable butterflies; instead, grow extra parsley, dill, or fennel, to have more black swallowtails. Leave common milkweed in rough areas for the monarch caterpillars.

Don’t panic if you have few apples or crabapples this year. Last year’s apple crop (2013) was enormous due to the hard frosts in the spring of 2012, that killed the flowers. Last year, the trees put most of their energy into fruit, rather than forming the flower buds for spring 2014. If weather permits in the spring of 2015, we should have another very large fruit set. Thinning the fruit next year may reduce the tendency to biennial bearing that might result.

Black knot is a fungus disease that affects some plums and cherries. Refer to the factsheet for control, but if you haven’t planted plums yet, seriously consider the hybrid plums that appear to be resistant. Most of these are the product of plant breeding in the upper Midwest, so they are hardy to zones 3 or 4.

Ornamentals:

It’s finally OK to remove narcissus foliage that seems to hang on forever – but removing it prematurely really does have a negative effect on flowering. This is also a good time to move the bulbs, or you can dig them up and dry them off, for planting in September.

Early July is a good time to move Colchicums. The dormant foliage should still allow you to find them. Try growing plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, as a fall-flowering groundcover with the Colchicum. The foliage will help support the Colchicum flowers and keep them out of the mud.

A good rainy day chore is sorting the seed packets. Also, if you forced bulbs this past winter, you can take them out of the pots and store them dry and cool for the summer (except for delicate ones like snowdrops).

Leggy annuals may need to be pruned back to encourage new growth and more flowering. Some annuals don’t take hot weather and may need to be replaced.

Continue to go on garden tours at private gardens and arboreta. Be sure to take your camera and notebook, because you are sure to get ideas for your own garden.

Invest in a rain gauge and keep track of your rain. This is not only helpful, but fun as well.

Watch your viburnums for viburnum leaf beetle adults, especially if the larvae defoliated them. Consider a pesticide treatment to save the shrubs. Do NOT cut back branches just because the leaves have been eaten or damaged. Scratch the bark with your fingernail. If it’s green underneath, the branch is alive. Dormant buds under the bark just need time to develop into sprouts and leaves. If the leaf defoliation isn’t too bad, an organic control method is to snip off the twigs that contain the VLB eggs. Although the egg-laying sites are most obvious in the fall, one actually has until April to trim the affected twigs. See the VLB factsheet for details.

This is the last month to fertilize woodies, without encouraging tender late growth that may not harden off in time for winter. It’s also the last month to prune woodies, for the same reason – except for dead or diseased wood, which can be pruned any time.

Mark colors of phlox or daylilies in case you want to propagate them for friends or Plant Sales.

Deadhead some perennials, either for continued bloom, or for improved foliage.   For more details, consult the excellent book by Tracy DiSabato-Aust: “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden.”

Bearded irises can be divided and replanted now. It’s best to get this done by Labor Day, to allow sufficient time for rerooting. If you want to order more, do so right away. Late-planted bearded irises may heave out of the ground and die in the winter, but if they have enough time to root, they are very winter-hardy. A tip from the Southern Tier Iris Society: put a brick on late-planted rhizomes to prevent heaving.

Spring-planted woodies need to be watered every week unless there is an inch of rain. Ten to 15 gallons per plant is recommended. If you haven’t protected them from deer yet, start planning how to do it.

AUGUST

In the food garden:

This is the last month to plant these veggies if you are in zone 5: early broccoli or cauliflower transplants, leaf lettuce, spinach, and turnip.

The easiest way to expand the veggie garden is to sheet compost now with flattened cardboard boxes. Overlap the edges and then cover them up with whatever you have – grass clippings, woodchips, spoiled hay, or bags of leaves. By spring, most of the weeds will be dead. This is also a good way to prepare the ground for shrub borders, berry plantings, or flowerbeds. You can also use thick newspapers, but they take longer to apply.

Harvest garlic when the leaves are yellowing. Next you can weed the area and plant a late crop (see above). It’s best to rotate where you grow garlic, so pick a new spot with lots of sun and good drainage. Maybe, sheet compost the new spot now (see above), until planting time in mid-October.

Keep up the weeding, watering, and mulching, as needed. Try not to get leaves wet as that might spread disease. Keep a close watch for tomato/potato late blight.

Keep harvesting beans, basil, okra, cukes, summer squash, eggplant, etc., in order for plants to keep producing. It’s OK to leave some peppers on the plant to ripen and turn color.

Fall-bearing raspberries should start producing by mid or late August. If you have the variety ‘Heritage’ and have had problems with early fall frosts destroying part of the crop, plant an earlier-bearing variety. ‘Polana’ has proven successful.

Enjoy blueberries until Labor Day if you have planted the late-bearing variety ‘Elliott.’ Maybe you have room to add it next spring!

Ornamentals:

Nursery stock goes on sale and may be a bargain if it has been well cared for. Be sure to water weekly after planting if rain is insufficient. Keep the watering up until the ground freezes, unless rain is adequate.

The second half of August is a good time to start to move and/or divide some of the hardier perennials. Try to be all done by the end of September.

Order bulbs now for fall planting, to get the best selection of varieties. Lots of spring-blooming bulbs are deer-resistant. Avoid tulips and crocus, and enjoy carefree alliums, winter aconite, snowdrops, snowflake, Siberian squill, glory-of-the-snow, Puschkinia, Fritillaria, and Anemone blanda. Grape hyacinths send up fall foliage, but even when it’s browsed, it doesn’t seem to affect their vigor.

Repot your houseplants to get them established before they need to be brought back inside.

Keep the lawn mowed at a 3-inch height for the strongest root development and drought resistance. But if a drought drags on, allow the lawn to go dormant. It will revive on its own when rains resume.

Late August and early September is the best time to renovate the lawn or to seed a new one.

This is the time to start protecting tree trunks from ‘buck rub’ damage.

—Pat Curran and the Tompkins County Master Gardeners

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