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WHAT TO DO IN JULY

These are just a few of our suggestions for Central Texas gardeners. Please come visit us at The Natural Gardener for the best, most comprehensive advice, plants and organic gardening supplies, all appropriate to our area and the current season.

SOW SEEDS
Vegetables: Amaranth, Black Eyed Peas, Corn, Cucumbers, Malabar Spinach, New Zealand Spinach, Okra, Pumpkin, Summer Squash, Winter Squash.

Use the 4th of July holiday as your reminder to plant pumpkins in order to get nice, big Jack o' Lanterns in time for Halloween!

Fruits: Cantaloupe, Watermelon.

Annuals: Cosmos, Gourds, Morning Glory.

PLANT
Vegetables: Eggplant, Peppers, Tomatoes. (Yes, tomatoes are technically fruits.)

Herbs: Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, Thyme.

Annuals: Blue Daze, Gazania, Geranium, Gomphrena, Marigolds, Periwinkle, Portulaca, Purslane, Zinnia.

Perennials: Black-Eyed Susan, Butterfly Weed, Copper Canyon Daisy, Cupheas, Coreopsis, Shasta Daisy, Ox-Eye Daisy, Four-Nerve Daisy, Daylily, Eupatoriums (including Gregg's Mistflower), Goldenrod, Kniphofia, Lamb's Ears, Lantana, Plumbago, Ruellias, Salvias.

Xeric: Agave, Cacti, Nolina, Sotol, Sedums, Yucca.

Grasses: Maiden Grass, Bamboo Muhly, Gulf Coast Muhly, Big Muhly, Weeping Muhly, Mexican Feather Grass, Switchgrass, Inland Sea Oats (likes the shade!), Purple Fountain Grass.

FEED AND CULTIVATE
If spring-planted, indeterminate Tomatoes still look good, cut off 1/3 of the plant to rejuvenate them for the fall season. Give them some Flower Power fertilizer, keep them watered, healthy and blooming and once temperatures cool off, the flowers will begin to set fruit. If your spring Tomatoes don’t look good, then pull them and replant now for fall.

Plant fall Tomato transplants under shade cloth. It’s counter-intuitive to plant anything right now, as hot and dry as it is in July, but the idea is to get your Tomato plants big and blooming so those flowers can set fruit as soon as the heat breaks. (Typically, Tomatoes won’t set fruit if the temps are above 90°F.) Be sure to use shade cloth to allow your transplants to acclimate themselves to the heat. Also consider using Plant Success, Biozome, and Maxicrop Seaweed to reduce transplant shock and promote strong roots. Seaweed is also a great anti-stressor for plants. If you keep your plants healthy through the heat, you should have loads of Tomatoes in the fall.

Tomato-growing tip: Keep moisture levels in the soil as even as possible. Tomatoes are tropical plants and they don’t like to be drought stressed. They don’t like to be too wet, either, but definitely don’t let them droop repeatedly. Whether they’re new fall transplants or spring plants that you’re carrying through the summer, consistency of watering is crucial to produce healthy plants and lots of pretty fruit. Among other problems, swings in moisture levels causes Blossom End Rot and Cat-facing.

Want Jack o’ Lanterns for Halloween? You need to plant them now, and here’s a short-course on how to do it:
 Find an 8 foot by 8 foot area in full sun, with well-drained soil. Add a good amount of cow manure compost and mix in well. In the center, make a 3 foot by 3 foot “pitcher’s mound” of soil, and mix in some Lady Bug 8-2-4 or Garden Pep Cottonseed Meal. Make four to six holes, one inch deep, in the top of the mound. Place one pumpkin seed in the center of each hole and firmly pat down the soil. Water-in, then lightly mulch the seeded area with Pine Straw mulch. Add about three inches of Pine Straw onto the sides of the hill. After your pumpkin seedlings emerge, thin out all but two or three of the strongest plants. As the plants grow sturdier and spread out, more mulch can be added onto the bare soil around them but do not pile up mulch onto the stems. Keep your pumpkin patch very well-watered, since these giants of the vegetable world need plenty of moisture to grow. Some good varieties of carving pumpkins are Howden and Jack O’Lantern. For extra-huge Cinderella carriage pumpkins, plant Big Max or Wyatt’s Wonder. (Remember, giant pumpkins need a heck of alot of water, so be sure you’re prepared to commit!)

Fertilize landscape plants one last time before fall. Natives don’t need it, but non-native plants will appreciate a dose of Lady Bug 8-2-4,  Garden Pep Cottonseed Meal or Flower Power to carry them through the summer. After this feeding, allow your plants to “rest” until temperatures begin to cool off in the fall.

A rule of thumb for fertilizing edibles and ornamentals: If a plant has to be watered frequently, it needs to be fed frequently. Actively growing plants need lots of nutrition and frequent watering washes nutrients from the soil. Potted plants and edibles, especially, will benefit from very regular feedings.  If you’re watering at least once a day, you could apply a dry fertilizer like Lady Bug 8-2-4 or Flower Power once a month, and John’s Recipe liquid fertilizer every two weeks.


PRUNE, SPRAY, MAINTAIN
As far as the landscape is concerned, there’s not much that has to be done right now. Other than watering, of course. If you feel like working in the garden, this is a good time to tidy up. Deadhead flowers. Pull up spent plants and compost them. Prune off dead limbs. Renew mulch. Add some yard art, a wind chime, maybe a birdbath. Remember to work during the cooler hours of morning and evening, use sun protection, and stay hydrated.

Continue spraying all plants with seaweed on a regular basis. Spray on, and under the leaves, before sun-up or after sundown. (When temperatures are above 90°F, you shouldn’t spray anything, even plain water, one plant leaves during the day.) Seaweed contains micronutrients, trace elements and hormones, and it’s a great anti-stressor for plants. It’s also a good, healthy way to get rid of Red Spider Mites!

Got lawn? Correct watering is the single most important thing you can do to keep your lawn healthy – and to be sure you’re not wasting precious water. Check with The Natural Gardener’s Info Desk to determine how much water your particular type of grass needs. Once you learn, for example, that St. Augustine needs 1” to 1 ½” of water per week, the next step is to check your system’s output so you’ll know how long to let the water run. Whether you’re using a sprinkler on the end of a garden hose or a multi-zone automatic irrigation system, this is a very important thing to do, and luckily it’s easy to do. Set out three to five empty cans in a straight line from the sprinkler to the edge of the sprinkler's coverage. Run the sprinkler(s) for ½ hour then measure the amount of water in each can and find the average. If the average is, for example, ¼” then you know it will take 2 hours to get 1” of water to your lawn. Remember to divide your lawn’s weekly water needs between two waterings, and to always water in the early morning. (An hour or two before sunrise is ideal.)

Got weeds? Alot of weeds? The process of solarization takes at least a month, but it is a highly effective, completely non-toxic way to get rid of stubborn weeds and even soil pathogens. July and August the best times of year to solarize because you need that heat to cook the pathogens and weeds seeds hiding in the soil. If you’re getting rid of common weeds and grasses, water the area thoroughly. If you are dealing with Bermuda and/or Nut Grass spray the area with Green-Go weed killer right before solarization. After soaking the area with water or Green-Go, cover the area with clear, heavy duty plastic. Secure the edges with soil, rocks, and the like. This "seal" around the edges is very important. The plastic should be at least 4 mil thick; 6 mil is better. This is creating the "greenhouse effect" under the plastic: the sun’s energy gets through the clear plastic, but gets trapped as heat underneath, baking the top layer of soil and the Bermuda or other weeds. Leave this in place for at least two weeks. Then remove the plastic, till the area to bring the roots up to the surface, and water and cover again for at least two weeks. When this is all done, remove the plastic and start watering again to see if the rascals will come back from any millimeter of root left behind. At this point it would be a good idea to have that vinegar on hand to spritz any sprouts that emerge. Keep up with this process until you see a distinct lack of lawn or weeds.

Watch for evidence of Take-All Root Rot in your St. Augustine lawn. Usually it is seen in the warmest, driest months when the grass is stressed. If you’ve had this issue before, you should spray Actinovate SP at its maintenance rate to prevent the disease from taking hold, or curb it before it gets out of control. If you’ve never had Take All, and suspect it could be the culprit of spreading swaths of death in your lawn, bring us a sample in a box or sealed container: we need a 12”x12” sample, taken from the edge of the problem area. The best samples show mostly healthy grass, some of the dying area, and a little of the dead zone. This way, we can see whether it’s bugs or fungus doing damage to the unhappy portion of the grass. Bring your sample to the information desk in the back of the store, and we will help diagnose your problem.

If you have pecan trees, release Trichogramma wasps now to reduce damage from fall webworms. Trichogramma wasps are tiny and they don’t sting humans; they parasitize the eggs of webworms and other pests. Since there can be three to four generations of webworms in Central Texas each year, try releasing Trichogramma wasps in late April or early May, then in mid-June, and again in early August. The population of webworms in August is usually  the most damaging, so you may even want to release three rounds of the wasps, two weeks apart, starting in early August. You can mail order Trichogramma wasps from Biofac in Mathis, Texas.

CONSIDER THIS
Consider investing in soaker hoses and/or drip irrigation. They put water right where it's needed – in the soil, next to your plant’s roots. This saves water and money, it’s better for your plants, and it may even prevent the occurrence and spread of certain diseases.

As the temperature soars up and the sun bears down there are many opportunities to use shade cloth. Many gardeners will rig up a shade structure for tomatoes this time of year to help them through the heat. 30% shade cloth can help the tomatoes produce longer into the summer and come into the fall production time much healthier. Late in the summer you can use the shade cloth to start your fall veggies while we are still having hot days. Create a little shade house for newly seeded area and your seedlings  will be under much less stress and have a good start to their growing season.

Hundreds of Americans die every year from heat-related illness. Whether you’re working or playing, be careful out there and stay hydrated. Also, be sure to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of heat-exhaustion and share what you know with others. You might save a life!
 The symptoms of heat exhaustion include: thirst; headache; profuse sweating; muscle cramps; rapid heartbeat; nausea; irritability; dizziness or light-headedness; loss of coordination.
 If you have any of these symptoms, immediately stop what you’re doing and get to a cool place, under a fan if possible, relax, loosen clothing, apply cold compresses to exposed skin, and slowly sip water. Water should be cool, not cold, and you need to drink slowly, a cup or so every 15 minutes. Water is usually sufficient, but if you have cramps, a sports drink with electrolytes may help.
 Heat stroke is life threatening and requires immediate medical attention! Symptoms include: dizziness; headache; confusion; irrational behavior; reduced or no sweating; fast pulse; rapid breathing; nausea; vomiting; convulsions; collapse.

Once temperatures are above 90°F, even plain water can burn plants that are in the sun. It’s tempting to give your plants a cooling spray of water, but don’t do it! It wastes water and it can damage your plants. If you must spray, be sure to do it after sundown or at least two hours before sunup (so the leaves have time to dry before the sun hits them.) If you’re applying an oil-based product, spray after sundown and rinse the plant with plain water a couple of hours before sunrise.

It’s too hot to enjoy it during the day, so make your yard a fun night time destination. Plant a “moon garden” or simply add white and silver plants to existing beds. Hang a few solar lanterns, glow-in-the dark decorations, and strings of solar party lights. Add some comfortable outdoor furniture, sweet-smelling natural mosquito repellents.

Wild critters need extra help at this time of year, as their food and water sources dry up. Keep your little wild friends in mind, and be sure there are good food and shelter plants in your yard. Try and keep water available at the outskirts of your yard, too.


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