Happy July! It’s time for fireworks, watermelons and summer vacations. Get your wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen out, and protect yourself from intense sun as you go about your July gardening chores. Drink plenty of water, and take frequent breaks. Don’t let heat exhaustion sneak up on you! And always wear mosquito repellent to reduce the chance of being bitten and contracting West Nile virus.
How is your vegetable patch doing? Some spring-planted types may be starting to play out. Bugs and diseases may be getting the best of some others. For those that are still producing well, your vegetable garden should be harvested daily to maintain productivity. For peak freshness, harvest early in the morning, and get the heat off the produce quickly by soaking in cold water. Vegetable plants may also need some additional nitrogen, which is easily depleted by frequent watering and fast growing plants.
Fall garden preparations begins in July. I know it’s hot out, but timing is important if you would like to try for a harvest in late summer and fall. First, do not plant the same vegetable type in the same spot year after year! Soil-borne diseases and insects will build up and eventually cause major problems. For example, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes are all in the same plant family, and have the same set of problems. Add compost or other organic matter, and composted manure, cottonseed meal or other fertilizers to the garden spot before tilling. If plant growth was poor this spring, check the pH of your garden soil, and add lime if the report indicates a strongly acidic soil.
In addition to transplanting tomatoes in July, here are some “optimum planting windows of time” for vegetables to be set out as transplants this month.
Transplant eggplant July 17 to Aug. 1, and peppers July 1 to Aug. 1.
Other veggies that can be started from seed this month include Lima beans and summer squash (July 15 to Aug. 15), cantaloupes (July 15 to Aug. 1), southern peas and pumpkin (July 1 to Aug. 1), and winter squash (July 1 to 15).
The summer heat has a way of sapping your strength and slowing down outdoor activity. However, one gardening activity doesn’t slow down, but rather speeds up in summer, and that’s mowing the lawn.
Warm season grasses love hot weather, and grow rapidly at this time. A key to a high-quality lawn is to keep it out of stress. For the densest, healthiest grass, it should be mowed frequently and at the proper height. How often you cut it depends on how fast it is growing, because you shouldn’t remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade at any one time to prevent stress.
The bad news is that during the summer, when lawns are rapidly growing, you might have to mow approximately every 5 or 6 days to observe the “1/3 rule.” That makes mowing only on weekends a problem. If you find you will be removing more than 1/3 of the blade, raise the mower deck a notch.
Another stress on turf is mowing with a dull blade. Check the ends of the grass blades after mowing. They should have a straight, clean cut. If they are ragged or frayed looking, it’s time to sharpen the blade. This will improve the appearance of your lawn, and reduce opportunities for disease organisms to invade.
Speaking of pests, watch out for two problems common to St. Augustine grass during the summer. Gray leaf spot may be showing up now. Nighttime watering, frequent rainfall, high humidity, heavy dew (i.e. prolonged leaf wetness), plus rapid, lush growth are ideal conditions for this fungus. Allowing the grass to grow very tall between mowing can also increase disease development.
One symptom of lawns with severe gray leaf spot will be areas that seem to just fade or melt away. The disease often starts in shady locations, low spots with poor drainage, and/or areas regularly exposed to runoff from watering. Individual leaf spots are typically elongated with dark margins.
How you manage your lawn is very important for gray leaf spot control.
n Do not over-fertilize.
n Do not water at night.
n Mow frequently.
n Catch clippings in problem areas. As grass growth slows in late July and August, and rain frequency decreases, gray leaf spot usually subsides. Fungicides can be used to control gray leaf spot, but control may be difficult if the disease has already done significant damage.
Chinch bugs can multiply rapidly in warm weather. Chinch bugs are very small, so you usually don’t know they are feeding on your grass until symptoms show up. Their feeding injury causes St. Augustine grass to look like it is in drought stress, needing water, but it does not recover after irrigation. Their damage usually starts in the hotter, drier, sunnier parts of the yard. Keep an eye out for these symptoms.
Looking for some quick and easy summer color? Try sowing some annual flowers from seed. Zinnias and gomphrena (bachelor buttons) are some of the easiest to grow from seed, and can be started in small containers or right in the ground where they are to grow. Marigolds are another great plant for late summer and fall, plus they have fewer mite problems as we get in to the cooler fall season. Portulaca, purslane, cosmos, cleome and vinca are some other annual flowers that shine in hot weather. All can also be set out as transplants.
Cut off faded flowers (called deadheading) before they set seed to promote new growth and more flowers. Once a plant’s energy goes to maturing seeds, blooming will slow down or stop.
Salvias of all kinds are wonderful, non-stop blooming plants. However, they can get tall and leggy, and benefit from a good shearing to produce a sturdier, compact plant.
Bite the bullet, sacrifice a few blooms now, and they’ll come back in a few weeks bushier and better than ever.
Caladiums require plenty of water at this time of year if they are to remain lush and active until fall. Fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer at the rate of one-third to one-half pounds per 100 square feet of bed area and water thoroughly.
Plants in containers and hanging baskets need frequent watering in the summer to keep them from drying out.
All this watering leaches plant nutrients out from the potting soil. Use a water-soluble fertilizer regularly to keep your plants growing and healthy.
Keith Hansen is Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is http://EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu. His blog is http://agri life.org/etg.