By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Summers are warm and dry, just right for Pacific Northwest gardeners. In hotter, arid areas east of the mountains, freezing nights are finally a thing of the past, and the hot caps have come off the tomatoes. Northwest gardening in July means there’s plenty of work to do, with long days for enjoying that precious outdoor time. Here’s your garden to-do list for the midsummer month of July.
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June is the culmination of spring in the North, a month friendly to plants and people alike. It is a different matter in the South, where summer takes over and brings with it oppressive conditions for both plants and people. We can't rule out a heatwave in June even in the North, though.
Southern gardeners have to be especially watchful at this time when it comes to insect pests, plant diseases, and drought. Northern gardeners should be watchful for these problems, too, but not to the same degree.
July's garden is coming into its own, with warm temperatures that invite you outside and an abundance of blooms to enjoy. Of course, all that color needs a little bit of care to continue looking great throughout the summer season. Removing spent flowers from roses, dahlias and lavenders is an important step in keeping these plants looking sharp and ready to keep up the summer show.
Watering is also key during hot, dry periods in the Pacific Northwest. Even though our winters and springs are wet, our summers are dry enough to call for supplemental watering of flowering perennials and vegetables. Choosing a stylish hose is a good idea, because garden hoses are usually visible in the landscape, so they become as much a part of the decor as chairs and tables. The last thing to consider doing in July is sowing seeds indoors of fall crops and greens. By planning now, you can ensure a long season of beauty and harvest even into winter.
Remove spent flowers from roses. As rose blooms fade and the petals turn brown, it's important to deadhead, or trim off the old blooms. When dead flowers are left on a rose, the plant uses up precious energy creating fruit, which in this case would be rose hips. This results in fewer blooms and an early dormant season.
By pruning off these old blossoms, you direct the rose to continue blooming throughout the summer. Simply cut off the spent flower or flower cluster right above a leaf with five leaflets. It's best to choose an outward-facing leaf, because the rose will grow a new shoot from the dormant bud hidden at the base of the leaf.
Deadhead dahlias as each bloom finishes. Dahlias are one of the most profusely flowering plants in the garden, but in order to keep them going for a long season, it's critical to remove spent flowers regularly. Just like with roses, by taking off the old blooms you send a signal to the plant that the season is not yet over.
To deadhead, just trim each spent flower back to the main stem. When all of the flowers on a stem have finished, cut the stem back to a set of leaves so the dahlia will continue putting out fresh, new growth.
Shear lavender after bloom to encourage a bushy habit. Lavender can be a short-lived shrub in the garden, because it has a tendency to become woody on the inside and break. Because lavender doesn't come back from hard regenerative pruning, the best way to keep your lavender plants looking full and bushy is to shear them immediately after bloom.
While you never want to cut into bare wood, by shearing off the spent flowers and about a half-inch of foliage, you encourage the plant to sprout new, more compact shoots. Shearing also keeps the plant evenly shaped.
To shear, use handheld hedging shears and gently clip off all the spent blooms back to the fluffy mound of foliage beneath. Again, don't prune more than ½ to 1 inch of foliage off, as the lavender won't come back from shearing to bare wood.
Keep up with your watering. While established trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses need little supplemental water to do well, most flowering perennials and vegetables need regular watering to continue doing their best all summer. The Dramm hoses shown come in a variety of designer colors and will look stylish even when not in use.
It's best to water in the morning, when the plants are already wet with dew, since watering in the afternoon is more likely to cause fungal diseases to spread. When in doubt, water more deeply but less often, as this promotes a deep root system in your plants.
For more cool gardening gear, check out 20 Great Garden Gadgets.
Start seeds indoors for fall crops. Fall vegetables and greens, such as cabbage, kale, spinach, lettuce and broccoli, can be started indoors under seed-starting lights or in a very sunny window. Even if you have a bright, warm space to start your seeds, it's best to use a seed-warming mat under your seedlings to keep them at a consistently warm temperature. Once the seeds have sprouted, be sure to turn them occasionally so they don't lean towards the sun.
If your soil is warm and you don’t have a massive slug problem, you’ll get the best results with many of summer’s favorite veg by direct seeding.
By mid-May it’s typically safe to direct seed beans, squash, cucumber and corn. Check for warming soil temps and overnight lows consistently in the mid-to-high-50s or above: these are what determine if your seed will germinate rapidly and grow happily, or will languish and potentially rot.
Need to give your warm-weather crops a heat boost? Direct sow heat lovers like corn and squash under vented clear plastic or mini-bell cloches made from old milk jugs and and rely on the increased temps to give you strong and early germination. Just be careful temps under a cloche don’t get so hot that you cook your seeds or newly germinated seedlings!
This is a great month to get the kids involved – the large seeds of beans and squash are easy and fun for kids to sow. (Read more: The 5 Best Vegetables To Grow With Kids.)
In the Pacific Northwest, brassicas do very well as a year round crop, so if you want a nice continual harvest of broccoli and cabbage, consider a May sowing in addition to the big April transplanting.
The important thing if direct sowing these crops is slug protection. Again, Sluggo. Use it. Transplants can also fall victim to those damned mollusks, so be on the lookout (preferably at night, with a sharp pair of scissors in hand.)
If you prefer direct seedling over starting these indoors, go for it! Just (again, again, again) watch for slugs who think cucurbit cotyledon are the most delicious things ever.
Over the course of this month, all the nightshade crops can be transplanted out. Watch overnight lows in your particular garden to help decide when the time is right, and how much protection to give them.
All beans can be direct seeded this month with great success.
These can all be sown at any time. Just make sure your soil is dry enough to rake to a fine tilth. Roots do best in deep, fluffy soil.