Toronto gardeners (and many others) have had to put up with record-breaking heat for a couple of months now. It’s hard to get out there when the temperature is 34C with a humidex of 41, as in today’s forecast.
As I wandered about my garden watering and
admiring yesterday morning, I was considering the fact that July is a time when we should just enjoy what we have as much as possible, and take it slow and steady in the garden. After all, by now we have had to weed from one end to the other, and have probably applied any mulch early in the season. The garden is at its fullest. However, some things still have to be done, and luckily they are easy, pleasant activities for a hot July day. (Serious veggie gardeners, however, will probably keep working hard.)
In the interest of minimal exertion and maximum garden pleasure, here is my “top five” list of things to do in the July garden:
1. Water, water, water. What could be more pleasant work on a hot July day than watering? Try to water early, though, for a number of reasons. First of all, it is hard on plants to water in the full heat, and you risk scorching their leaves or spoiling their colour. Your hose may be full of hot water from lying in the sun. Also, watering in the heat means that you lose a lot of water to evaporation before it sinks in and becomes available to the plants.
Mildew is another problem with late-day watering. Asters, phlox, roses, Monarda, Bee Balm, among others, are susceptible to developing rust and mildew (white blotches progressing to rusty-brown, dried-out looking stems and leaves that gradually work their way up the plant from the bottom. Not a pretty sight. Finally, slugs love it when you leave the
area around you hostas sopping wet at night, because it creates a lovely, welcoming environment in which they can come out and chew those little holes in the leaves. Hostas always seem to do well until right about this stage of the summer, when the slugs do their worst. (Tip: crush eggshells and sprinkle them around hostas because slugs avoid crawling over rough or sharp things.)
Planters need to be watered every day or so, and deserve special attention.
2. Deadheading This is another relatively low-exertion summer activity that needs to be attended to at this time of year. Whether you have gotten away with ignoring your faded flowers until now, you can’t any more. Plants with individual blossoms or spikes of bloom, such as Echinacea, Coneflower as well as Shasta Daisies and many similar perennials will continue to send up lovely, fresh new blooms as long as you diligently clip off their faded blossoms. Clip them off at the next branching area down the stem
where you can discern a node with a new bud forming. Veronica, Speedwell benefits for a while from deadheading, as well as roses, Delphinium, Foxglove and many, many more.
Some deadheading is done just to prevent excessive re-seeding and keep the plants looking tidy. The plants put all their energy into their reproductive intentions, so that if you remove
seed heads the foliage can stay healthy and green. Annuals can be deadheaded to keep your planters lovely.
Similar to deadheading are cutting back or shearing, which applies to plants like Nepeta and Hardy Geraniums. You can either cut them right back to the ground as soon as their blooms fade, or just cut off the handfuls of long, leggy, tapped-out stems that the first blooms were growing on. Right now, it’s best to use the latter approach, as the second growth has begun and you don’t want to cut it off.
3. Last application of fertilizer. You can fertilize whatever you like, but in particular, fertilizing at the time of deadheading will promote a second flush of bloom where possible. Fertilizing after the end of July is not recommended, so now is the time to apply fertilizer for a beautiful late-summer and fall garden.
I am presently favouring slow-release organic pellets which may not need to be re-applied in the same summer. Particular plants, however, are really greedy when it comes to nutrients and never fail to show appreciation for a July application. And yes, of course, I compost absolutely everything I can.
Plants that really respond dramatically to a last dose of fertilizer include Buddleia, Butterfly Bush, and Delphiniums. I intend to hit my beloved collection of Heuchera with a last application as well this year, as I notice that they are particularly appreciative of extra fertilizer as well. I will also apply it to the Nepeta, Lavender and Hardy Geraniums to encourage their second set of flowers.
4. Staking This important activity is rather continuous by this time of summer, and often affects the same plants as those that require deadheading. Examples of perennials that I am staking right now are Delphiniums, foxgloves (don’t ask me why entire fields of them stand twice or three times the height of ours in the U.K. without falling over!), some lilies; some roses may benefit from staking. I have Platycodon (sounds like a dinosaur), Balloon Flower crying out to be staked in my garden right now. Hollyhocks (a biennial) will need staking if you have them in their flowering year.
Storm season is nearly upon us, and all the work of bringing along our tall, graceful mid-summer blossoms will be spoiled by a heavy rainfall or wind knocking things over, as in the sorry scene at left.
I either use velcro garden ties that you buy on a roll and cut as desired, or natural-coloured twine. I dislike the bright
green plastic-y stuff. Some gardeners even rub dirt into their twine to make it less visible, an idea that I love but don’t recall ever having had time to put into practice.
5. Pinching back Asters This task should be done no later than the first or second week of July, so it is really a little late now for this year’s blossoms. Pinching back can thicken the plants up so they aren’t leggy and tippy, and give them a fuller set of blossoms. It can also delay bloom so that you can manage the timing of your aster flowers, if you are so inspired. Experts advise that it takes 100 days for the asters to flower from the time of pinching, advice which I cannot say I have personally tested.
Yes, I will admit that there is still weeding to do, in addition to many other heavy tasks such as mulching which never seem to be finished. Although I am willing to unload a couple of yards of mulch in mid-30C temperatures, this is not one of my “top” activities to fit into July if it can reasonably be avoided!
I recommend scheduling your garden work as much as possible so that July is mainly a time for walking around with a glass of iced tea and a pair of clippers and doing light work while enjoying the beauty you have created.
After all, a garden is for pleasure and enjoyment, above all.