In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Alyssum smells like honey, attracts beneficial insects, and self-sows freely (but not weedily!)
Summer's Peak Growth
July is always devoted to vigorous growth and beginning harvests of the heat-lovers. Our heat finally arrived, and our plants demonstrated that either we'd succeeded in teaching them to grow deep root systems through deep watering -- or we hadn't because they pooped out, unable to handle the stress.
Reward the Ones that Thrived
Heavily mulch cultivated areas and pathways with organic matter to cut down on weeds and watering and to help keep plant roots cool. Replenish it as it decomposes into the soil. Pay special attention to shallow-rooted plants, which wilt and dry out quickly in hot, dry weather. Keep the mulch from touching stems of plants and trunks of trees to allow good air circulation and avoid possible crown rot.
Continue watering and feeding the entire garden with a balanced fertilizer and manure tea or fish emulsion every other week or so for steady growth and food production. Foliar sprays of liquid seaweed help trees, vegetables, fruits, and ornamentals withstand heat stress. Remember to not overhead water late in the day during warm weather, when leaves can't dry off by sunset, as this encourages diseases.
Keep grape root zones evenly moist as the harvest approaches to assure full filling out and ripening of the grapes. Enclose whole grape clusters in paper bags for protection from birds and wasps. Excluding light will not affect the ripening or sweetening of the grapes.
Tomatoes and other large plants in loamy clay soil use about one inch of water in three days of hot dry weather. Rinse the undersides of leaves with water to discourage spider mites. Tomatoes and eggplants especially like this refreshment.
Water and fertilize melons deeply once a week for juicy, fleshy fruits. Hold off irrigating melons about a week before they will ripen so their sugars will concentrate.
Pinch back herbs to encourage branching, and use the clippings either fresh or dry. Their flavor is at its peak just before they flower -- harvest them early in the morning after the dew has dried but before the day becomes warm and the fragrant oils dissipate. If you can smell them, it's too late; wait till the next day.
Encourage repeat blooming by pinching or cutting back alyssum, coreopsis, crape myrtles, dahlias, delphiniums, dianthus, fuchsias, gaillardias, lobelia, marigolds, penstemons, petunias, rose of Sharon, salvias, and verbenas. Prune chrysanthemums and poinsettias for the last time to encourage them to bush out and keep the stems from becoming scraggly by autumn -- unless you prefer a droopy or curly-stemmed display.
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