July is the time when many gardens are bursting with blooms and edibles, the vegetable patch in full swing, the annuals flowering like crazy, and even the herbs getting into the spirit with their rich fragrance and butterfly allure. It’s also the time when many other gardens are looking a bit tired of all the heat, sun, and benign neglect they’ve been receiving. If yours is one of these “disenchanted” landscapes, there are a few quick fixes you might want to try in order to perk things up in your beds and borders.
First, be brutally honest with yourself about the amount of water your garden is getting. An inch a week is the rule of thumb, but in very hot, windy, or drought-ridden areas, you might need more. And don’t assume that established trees and shrubs are tapping into the water table; if your area has been thirsty for several years, that table may have fallen considerably. Of course, water is expensive, so prioritize your garden, giving your trees, shrubs, and perennials the first and longest drink. Annuals will be gone in a few months anyway, but you want your long-lived plants around for decades!
Second, look at your blooming plants. Are many of the flowers definitely past their prime? Some plants are “self cleaning,” meaning that they drop their spent flowers all by themselves. Many, particularly perennials, are not. (After all, wild plants depend on their blooms going to seed in order to propagate themselves!) Take a good sharp pair of shears and deadhead the spent blooms, cutting a bit of the stem as well as just the flowerhead. Your plants will look much better, and you may stimulate them to bear a new crop of flowers before the cold autumn weather arrives!
Third, get up close and personal with your vegetable plants. You may be harvesting many varieties already, but there are still weeks to go in the summer season. If your veggie plants are looking a little nibbled-on, yellow, shriveled, or otherwise unhealthy, see if you can find the culprit on the underside of leaves or along the stems. Many garden pests are laying eggs about now, and a couple of holes in the leaves might turn into a midnight feast as the new generation of bugs and other nibblers arrives! To combat them without sprays or chemicals, see if you can pick the bugs off the plant in early morning, before they are active. If this isn’t feasible, consult your nursery for organic pest control products.
Fourth, force yourself to weed. (Better yet, bribe the kids or grandkids to do it for you!) Weeds really take off in summertime, and if you don’t eliminate them before they set seed, you’ll have a worse problem next year. And of course, being weeds, they have a very quick lifespan, flowering and seeding in no time flat. Weeding is boring but necessary. If you absolutely hate it, consider laying down a really heavy mulch.
Fifth, turn those garden bare spots into sites of future glory. Some plants have already died or been harvested by now, creating empty places in the bed and border. Sow some seeds right now for a fall crop of vegetables! You have time to grow everything from cabbage and kale (which don’t mind a bit of frost at all!) to quick-maturing lettuces and radishes. You can even leave some vegetables underground all winter long, then harvest them next spring or summer! Garlic and parsnips don’t mind this kind of treatment at all . . . and they put you ahead of the game for next season’s crops!
Sixth, resist the urge to trim and prune everything. It’s very tempting, with growth at its fastest and best, to keep the lawn cut short and all hedges pruned. But a taller lawn actually holds water better and is healthier than a crew-cut one — which saves you money and feels luxurious on those bare feet! And while some shrubs can be pruned year-round, most trees prefer to be pruned only during the winter months. Of course, you always want to remove dead or damaged growth immediately, but that shaggy look won’t do any harm right now. It may even create a little much-needed shade.
Midsummer is a time of wonderful beauty in the garden, and with a few quick maintenance chores, you can make it even better for all your plants.