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Your Regional Garden News - Zone 9

July 1 to July 31

 

Discover what you should be doing right now.  Our experts share gardening advice, techniques, news, and ideas to make your garden the best ever.  

Here's what's happening in your gardening region:

There’s still a lot that you can do in the hot-climate summer garden, and while growing vegetables is more difficult now, you can still help existing plants through the heat and replace struggling ones with new crops of truly tropical crops like okra and sweet potato. Taking a break from vegetables in summer is entirely understandable though, and there’s much that you can do during the coolest times of the day. Weeds and pests are especially active now, so continue patrolling your gardens just as you would any other time of year. Plant flowers and host plants for pollinators like honeybees and butterflies so that you’ll get better fruit set in the veggie garden. Now is also an ideal time to take advantage of the heat, pulled weeds and lawn clippings by starting a compost pile; or start warm-season vegetables indoors so that they’ll be ready to go in a month.

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    Stay on Top of Pests and Weeds

    It might be hard for you to get much done in the sweltering heat, but the pests and weeds are still going strong and building their ranks. Where to begin? One of the best ways to prevent pests in your garden is to keep them free and clear of any weeds, and not just for aesthetics either. For pesky bugs and moisture-borne diseases like powdery mildew, weeds form a convenient bridge to your veggies and can keep them hidden away from view until the damage becomes irreversible. Furthermore, they steal the water, nutrients and sunlight that your vegetables need to thrive. There are many garden tools to help you remove weeds with relative ease, but here are a few pointers. The best time to weed is in the morning, whenever the ground is moist and workable. Use your hands to weed around your plants’ fragile stems and roots and save the tools for the spaces between plants. Some weeds, such as dollarweed and inch plant are notorious for sprouting from runners, so pry these from the ground gently so that you remove the underground stem. The Cobra Head is a good tool for reaching beneath these stubborn runners and bringing them to the surface. When you’re finished weeding, throw them on top of the compost heap to dry out in the sun.

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  • Replace Struggling Vegetables

    Here in our hot climate, summer can be really rough on all but the most adapted of vegetables. It is possible to keep favorites like squashes and tomatoes going through July, but they’re so weakened by the excessive heat, torrential downpours and prolific pests that it might not be worth the trouble. Why bother with them when you can be growing veggies that can truly handle a Florida or Arizona summer? Now is the perfect time to plant okra, cowpeas, sweet potatoes and eggplants, but these can tie up your beds for months. If you’d rather reserve these spots for one of the many veggies you’ll be able to grow in late summer and early fall, plant annual flowers here instead and till them under when it’s time to plant your fall veggie garden. Whichever vegetables you plant next, choose those in different families this time around to avoid a buildup of diseases and pests. For example, if you had a hard time with your melons, plant peppers instead.

  • Plant a Pollinator Garden

    There’s a lot of buzz about pollinators, especially now that the colony collapse disorder is taking its toll on honeybees and threatening our supply of food. The good news is that you can attract honeybees, butterflies and other pollinators to your garden by planting a variety of flowers that bloom at various times of the year. Pay attention to which flowers are visited most often and continue to plant those in subsequent years. Some pollinators to plant in summer include Thunbergia, salvia, coneflower and thyme. The bright and tubular blooms of thunbergia and salvia are perfect for attracting the slender probing beaks of hummingbirds, while coneflowers and thyme are preferred by honeybees and butterflies. Another benefit of growing flowers is that by attracting pollinators, you can get better yields from your vegetables since some have to be pollinated to produce fruit. Once vegetables and herbs such as radicchio, lettuce, mustard greens, dill and parsley have bolted, leave the flowers intact to enjoy the blooms and let the pollinators do their job.

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  • Start Seeds Indoors

    Those up north are accustomed to planting seeds indoors every winter to get a head start on the spring vegetable garden, but here it’s the hotter months that keep us indoors. If you’d rather not tie up your garden beds with summer crops you can get started on favorites like squashes, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers and corn in the comfort of your own home. Doing so can be done with nothing more than a sunny windowsill, seed starting mix and seeds, but it’s really easy with seed growing kits from Burpee ranging from basic peat pellets in trays to those with elaborate self-watering systems, heat mats and grow-lights. Use them to get a head start on any growing season, or just for the sheer thrill of having a vegetable garden indoors.

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    Start Composting

    If you haven’t already started a compost pile, summer is a great time to do so. All of the heat and (if you live in Florida) torrential downpours help break down your grass clippings, branches, leaves, weeds and kitchen waste like a well oiled fertilizer machine so that you’ll have rich plant food and soil for the next year. It doesn’t take much work either. Composting is actually ideal for lazy gardeners because rather than bagging up your weeds, leaves and clippings, all you have to do is toss it on the pile. The only work you have to do is just add water and mix it all up every now and then. Use ingenious devices like the Kitchen Compost Pail or Backyard Composter to make composting even cleaner and easier; or for the ultimate in fun, check out the Worm Factory 360 with separate compartments and a window to give you a cutaway view of earthworms practically turning garbage into black gold.

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Of all the summer crops, with the possible exception of okra, eggplant is the most finicky when it comes to temperature. The plants simply refuse to tolerate cool weather. Plants set out too early grow slowly, can be stunted, and usually produce smaller yields. If you really want eggplant to thrive, don't be in a hurry to get them in the ground. Wait until about a month after your last spring frost, preferably until overnight temperatures stay in the 60s. Generally, the later you wait the better the production.