What to do in the garden: July

It's July and there's lots to do in the garden (apart from lazing on a deck chair with a glass of lemonade at your elbow, that is). Here's your July to-do list from Sharon Hanna.

Credit: iStockphoto

It’s July and there’s lots to do in the garden (apart from lazing on a deck chair with a glass of lemonade at your elbow, that is). Here’s your July to-do list from Sharon Hanna.


When your lawn receives less water it may turn brown and go dormant, and that’s okay: it will magically come back to life in fall. If you live in an area of water shortage, do not worry about watering your lawn.

When cutting, avoid scalping your lawn. Allow grass to be a bit longer, removing no more than one-third of its height at each mowing. Taller grass shades out weeds!

Water only once per week (yes, ONCE!). Do so in the morning, never at night. Water enough to fill a tuna can in the sprinkler’s line of fire by 2.5 cm (1 in.). Deep watering encourages healthy grass with deep roots that will not scorch in heat and sun.

Leave your clippings on your lawn after mowing. These act as natural mulch and add nitrogen to keep the grass green.

If you would like to convert some of your lawn area to a food garden, check out Carolyn Herriot’s blog on lasagna gardening. You can build a garden bed in a jiffy right on top of your lawn in a sunny area! Now is the perfect time to get started with growing late summer and over-wintering veggies (depending on your zone).

Food gardens

Keep veggies picked while small – they taste better. In many cases, picking encourages continued flowering, thus production. Check zucchini plants daily to avoid the “baseball bat” phenomenon; huge zucchini don’t taste that great except in chocolate zucchini loaf, which is really more about chocolate than zucchini!

Lettuce, mesclun and other greens will grow very quickly now. Water once or twice a day – they’ll be tender and sweet.

Feed “cut and come again” areas weekly with an organic booster, and keep them cut for salads and stir-fries.

If your lettuce/greens beds are too hot, try shade cloth, or grow greens in areas that get east or west light only.

For larger-type vining winter squash like butternut or Hubbard types, you might want to pinch excess flowers if you can see two or three squash have begun to grow. Continuing to vine and flower takes energy away from the developing squash. Sometimes you have to be a bit ruthless here.

Search regularly for beans, cucumbers and other green veggies that might be hiding under the leaves. Do not allow these to go to seed or the plants will stop producing.

Want crispy salads? After harvesting your leafy vegetables, rinse with tepid water rather than cold, and put them in the fridge for at least an hour.

Continue to pinch suckers from tomato plants. They appear overnight and seem to shoot off in all directions – keep your eyes peeled. Tomato beds (or containers) should be kept well watered especially in the heat. Tomatoes do not like to be dry; they don’t like their leaves to be wet either, finicky creatures – but they taste so good we put up with their demands. Some varieties will be ripening now – and they taste so good with bocconcini/fresh ricotta, fresh basil leaves, and a drizzling of fruity olive oil! Bon appetit.


If you feel energetic, remove dead wood from shrubs and small trees. It makes everything look 100 percent better for very little effort.


Your greenhouse (if it’s not well ventilated) will be ‘closed for the season’. Give it a clean if you feel like it. Or not. Sit, count ladybugs, enjoy your garden instead. You can clean it later.

If your greenhouse is ventilated and you’re growing peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, other tender crops, you might want to put shade cloth (usually green, available at garden supply stores) on top to keep your plants from cooking. Mulch pots (if plants are growing in pots) – even shredded newspaper is better than nothing – and keep everything well watered. Feed container veggies regularly – every 7–10 days. Try to vary the diet if you can. There are lots of good organically-based vegetable fertilizers you can try. Compost tea is great too – your plants will love it. Avoid feeding in the heat of the day; morning is best.


In the morning, after the dew has dried, cut herbs for freezing and drying. Use elastic to tie a bunch of harvested herbs; it will shrink with the bundle as the herbs dry. Place the bundle over a coat hanger and hang in a dry, well-ventilated place out of direct light. Store dried herbs in jars, etc. A little air circulation is good – avoid airtight containers unless you are absolutely sure the herbs are dry as a bone – they’ll go moldy otherwise.

This month you can also take semi-woody cuttings from herbs like sage, rosemary, lavender, more. Use a light, airy and gritty potting medium, something like 1/3 perlite, 1/3 seed starter mix and 1/3 sand. Lightly moisten, and fill 4-in. pots to the top. Put 6-12 cuttings depending on width (they should not touch) with most of the leaves cut off, pinching the top shoots. Put the pots in trays with plastic covers, or cover pots with plastic bags and fasten with elastic bands. Do not water again unless soil is dried out and growth is observed – about 6-8 weeks.

Fruit trees and small fruit

Enjoy your fruit – you might be picking some now – peaches, apricots, cherries! If you or a neighbour aren’t planning to use all of your fruit, consider contacting a local organization to pick and distribute it to the needy. More information here.

Time to get out the jam-making equipment! Harvest raspberries and strawberries. Cut and dig unwanted strawberry runners (you can pot these up, plant elsewhere, or give to friends) to increase the mother plant’s fruiting capacity. Some gardeners think its best not to keep the same strawberries going for more than two or three years. Others disagree – but it is normal for the berries to start getting smaller. I like to start some of the runners, keeping them fed, to replace older plants gradually.

Harvest raspberries when they are cool in the morning. Avoid crushing the berries by piling them up! Place on a cookie sheet and freeze. Transfer frozen berries into containers, return to freezer.

Thin grapes by selectively removing grape clusters to allow remaining fruit to get larger. This encourages ripening also. Remove some leaves (but not all) from around the clusters to increase air circulation and avoid bunch rot.


As we tell the children at Queen Alex in the gardening program – “water doesn’t run uphill!” Still, some folks (at least in my neighbourhood) don’t seem to believe this scientific principle! Soil piled up to a peak in hedges or specimen tree plantings is futile, stresses plants, and can be fatal. Rather than piling the soil, create a “moat” or dip in the soil around the tree or hedging material, so that water will flow into the root area. This is especially vital in hot weather, and with new hedges, shrubs, or trees. Install a drip hose under newly-planted hedge areas – you’ll be glad you did.

Flowers, bulbs

Lift daffodils and tulips as you notice foliage drying and browning. Stems should separate from the newly-created bulbs easily – don’t force. It’s okay to store stem with bulb attached at this point, in a cool dry place.

Deadhead annuals, perennials and some roses, to promote more blooms. The deeper into the plant structure you cut, the longer new flowers will take to develop, so don’t go overboard if you want to see another flush of blooms.

Water hanging baskets and patio plants as needed. Smaller pots may need to be watered twice on some very hot days. Larger baskets hold more moisture thus require less frequent watering. Water adds considerable weight, so make sure your basket hangers are secure.

Peat-based container mixes become hydrophobic (they repel water) when they dry out completely; it’s hard to re-wet them. If a planted container has completely dried out, fill a larger container with water and submerge the dry container in it for half an hour or longer if needed. A “muck bucket” works great for this.

Be sure to use the leftover water to water plants!

Keep sweet peas well watered, and mulched. Pick them daily – do not allow the flowers to form seeds. The more you pick the more bouquets you will be able to enjoy.

Propagation, seeds

Take cuttings of some woody perennials this month. (See instructions for herb cuttings, above.)

Start growing your overwintering veggies in pots or in seed beds: overwintering cauliflower (zone 7+), winter cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, Swiss chard, radicchio, kale.

Last chance for pole beans – get them in by July 7. Make another sowing of bush beans by July 10 or a bit earlier, depending on your zone.

Direct-sow beets, fennel, kale, rutabagas (early July); broccoli, cabbage, endive, lettuce, oriental greens, peas (heat-resistant varieties), spinach, turnips and kohlrabi.


If your houseplants are taking a summer vacation outdoors, ensure that they are kept watered and fed occasionally. They might enjoy a light spray with a hose once in a while too – never in direct sunlight, best done in the morning. This may deter spider mites and other critters from taking up residence on their leaves. (Don’t spray woolly-leaved plants, such as African violets.)

Feed amaryllis every two weeks if you’d like them to bloom again. If you didn’t move them outside yet, do it now – gradually – to a position in part sun.

Pot up offshoots of air-cleaning spider plants to increase your stock and give away to friends.

Around the garden

Your compost should be cooking along. Make sure to add water if needed – don’t let it dry out. The worms can’t work efficiently if things are dried up! Keep layering – one layer of wet kitchen waste (nitrogen), one layer of dry leaves, shredded newspaper, etc. (carbon) with an occasional shovelful of garden soil.

Is your area short of water? After bathing, don’t let the water go down the drain. Use this “grey water” – siphon it into watering cans, or scoop it out into buckets. Use grey water on flowers, perennials and trees. Avoid using on edible gardens. Grey water contains sloughed-off skin cells (nitrogen) and a bit of soap (potassium and a few other ingredients) so it’s okay for the garden.

Another way to conserve/reuse and reuse your water – wash your car on the lawn. The soap won’t hurt it.

Keep bird baths clean and filled with fresh water; leave shallow bowls of water around your garden for bees, butterflies, wasps, other beneficial insects too – they need fresh water! Be sure to add rocks to the shallow bowls so insects won’t drown as they are trying to get a drink. It’s very sad to see hard-working little mason bees that have drowned in deep water. Do what you can to avoid this.

Take a break. Relax, and enjoy your garden. Pinch off some fresh spearmint leaves (or other mints – experiment here!) to steep along with black tea – voila, tea Moroccan style. Sit back and loaf a little – watch the bees and the butterflies in action.

Happy Summer!