For me July is usually the most difficult time. The days are hot and so are the nights as well as less rain than we need. To combat all this I try to water and then mulch while the ground is still wet. My compost never really becomes true compost. Everything goes through the chipper so is in small pieces and starts the breaking down process. I also like to add grass clippings and put at least 2 inches around the plants (but not against the stems.) This preserves the moisture and cools the soil around the roots.  The worms are hungry and will snatch it gradually to digest and make “castings” lower in the soil as well as creating air tunnels for the roots.

          I have never had raised beds but I can see how they would help because usually part of the material in the “raise” is generally organic material and this can absorb more moisture than clay to make it available for the roots.  Do not keep stirring your soil with a hoe or tiller as this exposes the soil to the air and dries it out. It also brings weed seeds up to germinate. Put your mulch on top of the weeds to smother them and they will become part of the mulch. In some countries the people raise the edges by bringing up the soil in a small area and then planting down inside the space. The sides protect the plants from wind and they water only the low areas. Seeds will not wash away as easily and thin mulch keeps them damp to help them germinate.

          By July most of the weeds are not starting. Under the mulch its dark and they aren’t stimulated to start. On the surface it is too dry for the seeds to germinate. But there is one, Purslane which never gives up. Portulac aleracia is also called little hogweed, parsley, duckweed, and wild Portulaca by the book “Weeds of the Great Plains”. Some people pick it and eat it raw, cooked or in pickles. After trying to kill so many I don’t think I would enjoy eating it. It spreads by seeds and lateral roots. Even small pieces can root in a damp soil and start a new plant. The only place I don’t find it is in the shade.  It spreads quickly on the ground, never over an inch high, but if you let it, it will be up to 2 feet long with many, many seeds that are carried by the birds!!

            By this time some of our plants like Petunias and Impatiens are starting to look tired which means it is time to cut them back by about half.  It looks a little bare for a week or so but with water they will try to start over.  The purpose of a plant is to provide a new generation and cutting removes most of the seeds so they try again. If you want fresh green dill for your fall pickles it is time to start new seeds as the old crop is turning brown and seeds are dropping off. I always need a patch of dill for the Swallowtail butterflies.

          If you are a fall gardener the last of the month is time to start those crops as well as your last row of string beans.  Cabbage and cauliflower transplants are sometimes available in the garden centers. They will benefit by the cooler nights in August. If we have a late fall cucumber vines will produce a new crop but if they don’t have enough water during the hot weather they become bitter. Most of this is in the stem end so when you notice it just cut that end off.

          Now is the time to be looking for material for winter bouquets as well as deadheading plants that have finished blooming. Many will have time and energy to put out a new crop of blooms.  Cockscomb (Celosia species) need to be picked at their brightest color stage for drying. If done right the color will last for several years in a wreath. Especially the crested ones which many people say looks like a brain. They come in reds, pinks and yellows. Many get over 9 inches across. To dry just pick and hang upside down in a dark dry place.  This keeps the stem straight until it dries and preserves the color. The plumose or plume type can be treated the same way. I like to plant the seed directly outside as Celosia resents transplanting or its growth may be stunted with premature blooming. Wheat needs to be cut before it gets too ripe. Cattails should be picked before the “tails” open to scatter the seed. These heads were dipped in oil and then used as a torch at one time.  Many of the weeds are now going to seed as well as some of the grasses. Keep an eye on all the plants to know when to pick for drying as July is just the beginning of the season. If plants get too advanced they tend to shatter as you work with them.

          Yarrow (Achillea species) is another plant for wreaths or bouquets. It is easy to grow, doesn’t need or like a lot of water and comes in many colors that stay for a long time.  Clumps need to be divided in spring after several years for it to do its best.

Copyright 2014