pickles2A shift is happening in the garden with the onset of July.

The exuberance of spring is over, and gardeners are left looking at the remains of a pretty good party.

Whether your garden looks hungover or not depends on the planting you did in the spring.

Let’s hope it included some flowering heat survivors such as echinacea, black-eyed susan, liatris, pelargonium, goldenrod, verbascum, daylily, gazinia, helianthus, zinnia, teasel, etc…etc..etc…  

If you’ve got some foliage backing it all up (weigela, miscanthus, cardoon, ninebark, colocasia, banana etc…..) and a couple of small shade trees, your garden will feel like a cool respite from summer when grass starts to crunch under your feet.

If you want to hate gardening for the rest of your life, by all means, do your garden chores in the middle of the afternoon this month; but if you’d rather find joy, save your toiling for those exquisite hours at daybreak or day’s end.

And if you want to get hooked forever, bring a glass of wine with you in the evening and take a few minutes to savor your creation amidst the twinkle of fireflies and the outrageous roar of hedonistic cicadas.


“I should have planted that!” for the July garden

Carefully observing neighboring gardens month-to-month and putting in some of the wonderful things you see during the next planting season allows you to successfully increase your garden’s display season without having to experiment too much with timing. For sultry July, how about….

Ligularia dentata– (Leopard Plant)  Here’s a plant that capitalizes on shady, moist conditions and makes a tropical statement whilst being fully hardy.

Ligularias love some of the same conditions that thrill a hosta but add a new foliage texture to your shade gardens.  Depending on species, their large, often round, sometimes serrated leaves are greenish-purple on top, purple on the undersides and have deep purple-red petioles.  Their daisy-like flowers are school bus yellow and borne in July in the Mid-Atlantic, but if you’re the person who cuts off hosta flowers, you can do that just as well with a ligularia.  ‘Britt Marie Crawford,’ ‘The Rocket’ and ‘Othello’ are some of my favorite cultivars.  Afternoon sun is a killer. Z4-8.

shade garden foliage plants

Ligularia dentata ‘Othello’ in the bottom right of this photo sharing space with aucuba, miscanthus, ferns, tinantia, zingiber and chamaecyparis.


Outside Tasks:

It’s time to think about fall. Seedlings should be started soon for cool vegetable crops. If you are on the East Coast and suffer from the dreaded squash borer, a new planting of squash seedlings at the beginning of this month might net you a few pans of sautéed summer when everyone else is pulling out cinnamon candles and cardigans.

Early spring annuals such as lunaria, poppies and hesperis should be edited from the garden to prevent too much self-seeding. Leave some seed heads here and there for next season, and where the seed heads are not attractive (as in the case of hesperis), simply pull up the plant and lay it on the ground where it will be covered by the foliage of summer plants.

Keep on top of the lateral canes of climbing and rambling roses, which will now put out serious growth since flowering earlier last month. Invest in a pole pruner/clipper if you have not – – truly a “how-did-I-live-without-this” tool.

californiagardenGroundhogs, rabbits, deer and other four legged pests will be getting hungrier as the season progresses and your garden is the only place to go for fresh, leafy greens. Check your fences and barriers every few days and think about getting a trap for groundhogs if you haven’t already. I have found that cantaloupe rinds beat sliced apple as bait any day of the week.

Speaking of pests, the ones with six legs will be much more apparent in the heat-stressed garden. If you make a regular practice of removing adults and clusters of eggs every evening, you stand a much greater chance of stopping an infestation that can only be handled by destroying plants or pulling out vats of chemicals.

Pests with more than six legs (i.e. caterpillars) are beautifully taken care of by an organic spray with BT in it. It will take a couple of days for them to ingest the bacteria and have it make soup out of their innards, so don’t expect an immediate extermination.

Tomatoes benefit from judiciously removing lower limbs as they climb ever higher. Try to keep your tomatoes trained to just one leader. Laterals get very difficult to deal with and are better taken out.

Water, water, water – preferably deeply and early in the morning. Healthy plants are often side-stepped by disease and pests.

Deadhead your annual and perennial flowers regularly. Doing so prevents the setting of seed and stimulates the plant to continue flowering. There are a few plants where this isn’t the case, but hey…plants look nicer with spent flowers removed anyway.

Revel in your garden. It’s summer. That’s what it’s here for.


Inside Tasks:

Plants dry out inside as well as outside.  Warmer days mean more watering.  Try to keep them on a regular schedule and don’t forget to feed them too. If you are feeling lazy, plant stakes are probably the best option, but a re-potting and freshening with organic fertilizer is like a birthday present for them.

Aphids (greenfly) are in the air outside and can absolutely make their way indoors. Keep your eyes open and squelch infestations before they become infestations.

Orchids have finished their bloom time now. Cut back the inflorescence if you were lucky enough to inspire one. If you were, don’t move that pot a half inch – it’s obviously happy and orchids can be fickle. Well done and don’t forget to feed it at half strength.


It’s late. You’re tired. You’ve just seeded two flats of cauliflower, planted a new chaste tree and re-arranged your succulent trough.  The remote awaits. Will you:
a)         Fall asleep
b)         Fall asleep in front of the television
c)         Quickly pull out your garden journal and before you do either a) or b), write down what you did today so you don’t forget?

You know what you have to do. Enjoy your July everyone!


“I remember, I remember
How my childhood fleeted by, –
The mirth of its December
And the warmth of its July.”

– Winthrop Mackworth Praed,  from “I Remember, I Remember”


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