July is upon us and I am determined to pay attention to the little things that make this month so special in the Mid-Atlantic garden. At the top of that list are fireflies.
I have a renewed appreciation for these dazzling creatures after watching my nephew and nieces chase them with open mason jars and open hearts two weeks ago – my littlest niece talking to each one as they bobbed just out of reach in the fading light. They are children of the summer-dry West Coast, and had never seen them beyond movies and books.
It is calming to focus on these earthly miracles. Just after the family visit we sustained a large amount of damage to the pergola, barn and pavilion areas and lost many plants and equipment when the creek flooded its banks due to debris suddenly backing up at the bridge. The destructive power of water is fascinating, terrible…and unforgettable. It took us by total surprise. In a span of twenty minutes we lost as much as two growing seasons in some areas.
There are silver linings. The flooding showed the strength of some plantings and vindicated my choice to create height in beds, creating berms that channeled, or simply halted, water. The bridge remained steadfast and strong. The house and surrounding gardens were untouched, and re-invigorated by a deep soaking rain. And there is nothing like disasters to make you appreciate what you have and re-assess what you are doing with it.
July is a month that implores us to sit down, relax, and savor the joys of high summer. There is a shift happening in the garden — 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, gazania, 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 the sultry month of June, how about….
Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’– (Japanese spikenard)
Z4-8. 36-72”. Part Shade. Thanks to voles, it’s taken three tries with this fabulous shade-loving perennial to see it reach its potential. It was definitely worth it. The light and energy it brings to the shade garden is tremendous – a staple for the foliage-first garden.
Honestly, ‘perennial’ doesn’t describe it well – it is more of a midsize herbaceous shrub approximately 3-4 feet wide as tall, though it can get as large as six feet where the soil is soft and rich and the growing season long. This can certainly can be a challenge when it comes to allowing space for it in the early spring garden, but on the flip side, it effortlessly hides the ripening foliage of bulbs as it grows into its space beginning in mid-spring.
By July, it is outstanding. The long, layered stems boast compound, pinnate leaves of chartreuse-green which head towards the yellow end of chartreuse in more sun, and the greener end in more shade. At the end of the month, small white flowers arranged in panicled spikes appear to delight the pollinators. The birds take the berries of fall.
Grow Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ in a shade to part-shade location. Direct, afternoon sun is punishing – the best site for this perennial ‘shrub’ is somewhere where it gets a good amount of morning sun in moisture retentive, rich soil. Voles – as I’ve mentioned – can be a problem amongst the rhizomatous root system, so if they are an issue for you, it might be best to plant ‘Sun King’ either in a soil cage, or in a large plastic pot that is plunged into the soil, allowing a lip to protrude above the soil. The voles are not as fond of moisture as the aralia, so planting it in a moister area works on two fronts.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming your little aralia will be little forever. This is definitely one for the middle to the back of beds.
Garden Tasks for July
As always — the tasks I list for both the indoor and the outdoor garden are just SUGGESTIONS. You cannot do them all. Neither can I. Work on what makes the most sense to get the most out of your garden.
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.
Groundhogs, 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.
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”
Would you enjoy more frequent updates on what’s going on at Oldmeadow in July? I’d love for you to follow my Instagram account!