July can be a tricky month. The weather is normally hot and very dry which brings with it challenges for irrigating the garden and keep plants alive to produce well throughout the fall. This July in TN has bee a lot different. Out hottest days so far this year were like normal days in previous years and our normal days this year seem more like late May or even September. We’re also getting rain more frequently than usual. That has enable me to cut back on my vegetable garden watering significantly. So what does a gardener do in the garden in July? Here is a short list!
- Keep the plants maintained with good pruning techniques and watering as needed.
- Remove diseased plants from the gardens. Various diseases like blight can be managed by remove the diseased material but will eventually end the life of the plant. You can still harvest from it until the plant is done. Don’t put diseased material in the compost bin. It can live on in the soil and damage your plants the next year. If you have a burn pile or a firepit toss the diseased material in it then add the ash to the compost bin. Aster yellows also appears this time of year on members of the aster family. The plant I see the most damage on is coneflower. Completely remove the plant from the garden. It is spread by leaf hoppers who sample the unhealthy plants then bring the disease to the healthy ones. Removal of the diseased plants stops the spread of aster yellows.
- Add fresh mulch as needed. Mulch is an awesome way to regulate soil moisture and add organic material to the soil. Keep a good 2 inch layer of mulch over your gardens. In the fall I love using leaves for this but during the rest of the year have used pine straw, hardwood mulch, grass clippings, and straw. Coconut shells are a good mulch too if you don’t have pets – chocolate is bad for dogs! I tend to layer my gardens with newspapers or cardboard before adding mulch to add a biodegradable weed barrier.
- Harvest! This is the best part of the garden. The more you pick the more the plants provide. As soon as you pick a fruit from your tomato plant the plant can exert energy elsewhere and grow more fruit. Squash, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and others like to be picked – so harvest away! Wait long enough for good color to appear on your fruit. The more time on the vine your tomatoes spend the more nutritional value they have. The same goes with peppers. I’m not a fan of plain old green peppers but I love the red, oranges, and yellows!
- Begin starts of cool season plants over the next couple weeks. Plant them out in mid August on an overcast day or in the evening and water them well. Fall planted vegetables have some of the best flavor.
- Collect seeds from anything you really enjoyed this year. Vegetables, herbs and flower seeds can all be saved and replanted the following year. I plant mostly heirloom plants which have a greater chance of returning true to type. Hybrids will not come true but may still be interesting or delicious to try. When saving seed take note of plants that did the best in your garden. Save those seeds. If 10 of your tomato plants got the blight but 3-4 didn’t save seeds from them since they could be more disease resistant than the others.
- Keep those weeds at bay. Remember: every weed not allowed to go to seed is a lot fewer weeds next year!