What to do in July
What to do in the garden in July
July is a difficult month in the gardening calendar. In one respect, it is when everything should be at its beautiful, blooming best but only too often plants are beginning to look a bit tired and although with any luck some of the best summer weather is still to come, many of the jobs that need doing in the garden remind us that autumn will be here all too soon. The main aim in the herbaceous border is to keep the flowers coming and the best way to do that is to deadhead and trim as soon as you see something looking a bit tatty. This not only encourages new flowers to develop from buds, but also stops the plant wasting energy on setting seed. Depending on the flower, you might not want to see in next spring with a whole host of self-seeded plants and if you let the seed pods ripen and disperse, that is what you will get. These plants are not always very strong and will certainly ruin any planting scheme you might have in your borders. And don’t forget that preventing seed dispersal goes double for any weeds that you might find – dandelions are difficult to eradicate completely, but by stopping them before they become ‘clocks’ you can at least keep them a little bit in check.
If you have shrubs, these also need attention. Some of them will put out some very long, thin, whippy growth which will spoil the shape of the bush and not really make good branches by next year. If you are lucky enough to have a wisteria, especially a nice big established one, July is the time that it really needs your attention. It will be putting out suckers and side shoots; take the suckers out completely and prune the side shoots to around five joints from the main stem. If you have other climbers, work put in now will give you a much stronger plant for next season. Take any side shoots which are going in the right direction – in other words along or up your wall or trellis – and tie them in. Trim off any others, which will only weaken the plant if they grow too big, not to mention wind rock if the plant gets too shaggy.
The vegetable garden should be reaching its peak in July and what you should be doing is maximising the harvest by pinching out tips to encourage bushier growth. It sometimes seems a shame, but some plants positively benefit if you take some of the fruits off at an early stage, because the ones that remain will grow bigger. This certainly applies to plants such as marrows and courgettes and the bonus here is that you can actually eat any flowers you remove – dipped in a light batter and fried they are delicious. If you grow rhubarb you will probably have noticed that the stems are getting a bit woody now. The best thing to do is to leave the plant alone from July and allow it to get its strength back ready for the early crop next year. Most crops really benefit by constant harvesting though, and runner beans are probably the prime example of this. Left on the plant they only grow tough an unappetising, so picking them when they are ready is the best thing to do; who can resist fresh runner beans, anyway? Make sure you really keep an eye out for pests in the vegetable garden. Sadly, one of the rules of the vegetable plot seems to be that if you like to eat something, so will insects, slugs and snails. You can pick many pests off as you see them, but there are also a variety of sprays and solutions you can use that don’t employ chemicals that can at least keep pests down to a manageable number.
Depending on the weather, the greenhouse can keep you very busy at this time of year. If the weather is very hot, you will need to check your shading, whether you are using netting or shade paint. It is best to water in the morning and the evening, as the sun can damage leaves with water droplets on them if the heat gets intense. You will certainly have to keep a very vigilant eye out for greenhouse pests, such as red spider mite and flying pests. If you have opted for a natural predator for pest control, you must check to make sure that it is still giving adequate protection. And of course, sadly, nothing loves July in the greenhouse as much as fungal disease – keeping everything tidy is the answer, so all fallen leaves and trimmings must be taken outside and not left to rot.
Fruit growers have a busy time in July and not just eating the produce! Many fruits are either fruiting or are over by the middle of the month and in these cases, the canes or bushes should be tidied up and checked for any mildew or similar problem. Gooseberry bushes are very prone to damage by sawfly and they can decimate a bush in a day or so; constant checking is the only answer and if you spot any of the pests a good blast with a jet of water usually does the trick. One of the most rewarding plants you can grow for fruit is the strawberry. They are not hard to grow and depending on the variety they can give fruit all year. If you have an established strawberry bed, you might want to peg out the runners to give you more plants. Nothing could be simpler and it will increase your yield next year. If you don’t want more plants, or you are growing strawberries in pots or planters, pinch them off or your strawberry plants will waste energy unnecessarily. If you have fruit trees it is well worth the time spent if you take off some of the small fruits if they look crowded. They would not grow well if you left them there – they would probably drop off anyway – and so culling now will result in larger fruit later, as well as reducing brown rot.
For some people, the lawn is just the green thing that keeps the flower beds apart. Even if you are one of those people, you will have a much nicer green thing if you give it a bit of attention in July. This is about the last chance you have to feed your lawn; if you do it later, the growth you encourage will occur too late in the season and it will not overwinter well. You can mend any bare patches if they have got very bad; you can buy lawn seed for spot treatment and these usually contain some water retentive materials to help protect the germinating seed. If you have broken down edges, you can address this in two ways. You can either install lawn edging – this can be quite pricey if you have a large lawn, but is worthwhile long term – or you can cut neat squares, turn them so that the worn edge is innermost and then mend that with the spot treatment. Neither method is a short job, but both improve your lawn no end.
Although a lovely July day does tend to make you want to sit in a deck chair enjoying the view of your beautiful herbaceous borders, there are lots of jobs to do. Most of them are to do with keeping pests at bay and don’t involve too much heavy lifting, although if your pond is cursed with blanket weed you may have to do a little hard work to remove it. This is relatively simple and all you really need is a forked stick to twirl it around. It is a kind thought to leave it by the pond for a day, so that any creatures you have inadvertently removed with it can get back into the water. After that, you can compost it. While you are at the bin, most composts relish a bit of a turn now and then; preferably, you won’t have put solid matter like grass clippings on it, but even so it will need aerating to prevent it becoming a slimy mess. Hopefully, the weather will be hot enough to make the garden need some water; pooling the water gently around the roots is a much better way of getting it to where it is needed. If you are using water butts you can conserve water by using a mister to deliver it, but this is best done in the evening. Sometimes plants look as though they need water because they are wilting and sickly. If they are wet enough, gently clear the soil from around their roots and check for weevils or other pests. You will be able to see them clearly – they are off white little fat grubs – and they can be treated by watering with a nematode solution, although to help the plant in the short term, you can clear the soil if possible and fill the hole with fresh compost.
July sounds like hard work, doesn’t it? This isn’t the case – all you need to remember is to keep things clean and neat to minimise fungal problems; check for plants which look a bit poorly – there is almost always a simple remedy; sacrifice a few fruits if a plant is overcrowded – your yield will be larger in the end. Most of all though, don’t forget the important task for July – make time to sit back and watch your garden grow!