Trowel & Error

Late-start gardening

What you can do in July

By Nancy Crowe
So you spent May and June dealing with the end of the school year, getting the kids settled into their summer routine, shopping for Mother’s Day gifts, shopping for Father’s Day gifts, preparing for vacation, going on vacation, catching up after vacation and going to one festival after another. You meant to get some flowers and vegetables planted, you really did, but at this point it’s all over but the watering. That is, if you’d planted said flowers and vegetables in the first place.

Think again. It’s true that nature has timing and rhythm of its own, but there are plenty of options and a few workarounds.

Go to a nursery or garden center, and you could stumble upon a sale with some good-quality plants at discounted prices. Many times I’ve been at a nursery in midsummer for, say, a spare pair of shears, only to come home with a couple of clearance-rack plants that had held their own and deserved a chance. You might bring home a few stragglers, give them a little TLC and watch them flourish. Even if they don’t (remember, stuff happens in nature no matter what mere humans do), you probably haven’t spent much.

Kenton Neuhouser, owner of Neuhouser Nursery and Neuhouser Garden and Gifts, said July is still a viable time to plant. He knows this from experience, as the spring rush often prevents him from getting to his own garden until July. “You’ll find a good selection of plants, especially early in the month,” he said. “It’s still a very good time.” Besides, he added, you can buy some perennials while they’re in bloom.

Hydrangeas and Knock Out Roses can be found in bloom in July, Neuhouser said. Also popular at this time of year is the coneflower, which has several beautiful new varieties. These include Green Envy, Hot Papaya, Tomato Soup and Mac ’n Cheese. Some powdery-mildew-resistant bee balms and garden phlox are also available. The key, he said, is to treat the plant with both a root-stimulating (look for a high middle number) and a timed-release fertilizer, and reapply the root-stimulating fertilizer in two weeks.

Seeds are another option, particularly for vegetable gardening. You can plant seeds for green beans, corn and squash now. In fact, you can sow a few of these every week or two. In garden lingo, that’s known as succession planting for continuous harvest. In everyday language, it means you better use those little garden label tabs to mark what you planted, where and when. Then post sticky notes indoors to remind you when it’s time to plant the next round.

What you definitely don’t want to forget about is watering. At this point in the season, you avoid the waterlogging that comes from spring rains or well-intentioned overwatering — but you have to be careful of drought. July, as you may have noticed, can be very hot. It can also get pretty dry, so make sure to keep the soil moist enough for your newly planted seeds to germinate and get growing.

Growing tomatoes, peppers and eggplant is not out of the realm of possibility if you can find the plants, and if you’re willing to cover them when frost threatens. Then in the fall, when everyone else’s warm-weather crops are history, you will still have ripe, fresh produce to share.

Which should remind you to get started earlier next year. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll know what to do.

Nancy Crowe

Posted Wed, 06/22/2011 - 2:35 pm