In the garden/Heat's on: use mulches to save water The Monitor's monthly garden calendar has been changed this month to illustrate the growing seasons (expressed as the number of frost-free months) throughout the country rather than straightforward geographic regions. This incorporates the fact that some geographic regions contain a wide range of growing climates. In presenting this column the editors wish to acknowledge the considerable assistance received from state colleges and Department of Agriculture extension officers around the United States.
Tender beets and the greens should be ready now. To keep greens tender be sure they are watered regularly. Dry soils turn many vegetables bitter or flavorless. Lettuce is especially susceptible to bitterness. Be sure to keep soil around tomatoes, peppers, and summer squash evenly moist to prevent blossom end rot of the fruit. Watch for small oval, flat, brown eggs glued singly to vines and leaves of cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and melons. Crush these eggs of squash vine borers. Cracked tomato fruit can be due to moisture change (dry soil followed by sudden wetness). It is also a variety trait. Glamour is a crack-resistant variety that should be planted if cracks are a common problem each year. If apple trees have too many upright branches, you can induce some to grow horizontally by using water-filled plastic jugs as weights. Run cord through handles and tie to branches, then remove after two months. Remove suckers from grapevines. Make blueberry soil more acid by adding vinegar water, one tablespoon vinegar to a gallon. Oak leaves, pine needles, and sawdust are good mulches for blueberries. Strawberry plants can be given a summer snack and can be thinned to rejuvenate the bed. If more than three years old, it is best to dig up and make a new bed. Control insects on raspberry bushes by pruning off old canes immediately after they finish bearing. Feed trees and shrubs by end of July so they will not go into fall and winter with tender new growth. You can also prune evergreens such as arborvitae, yews, hemlock, and spruces. Perennials such as Oriental poppies can be divided and replanted in late July, as can overcrowded iris and lily of the valley. July is the month the heat's turned on. With a water shortage in many areas, the watchword is save, save, save. So mulch vegetables, trees, and shrubs. Tomatoes are growing fast so go easy on feeding now. More important is water, to prevent ``leather rot'' (same as blossom-end rot), a problem associated with dry soil. Still time to make another sowing of corn, peas, onions, cucumbers, and scallions for fall munching. If you're a ``tomato staker,'' do it now. It keeps fruit off the ground and gives greater early yields. July and white fly often go hand in hand. This hot-weather pest loves tomatoes. Look for them on undersides of leaves. Also look for a dirty black coating on foliage. Spray with a homemade concoction of 1 tablespoon each of Tabasco sauce and liquid dishwashing detergent, plus 1 cup of rubbing alcohol to a gallon of water. Be on the lookout for Mexican bean beetle. Either larvae or adults can be found on leaves. Look for egg clusters under leaves. They are easily mashed with your thumb and forefinger. Pick leaf and head lettuce daily to prevent ``bolting'' (going to seed early). Go through your raspberry patch and hook out wilted shoots . . . a sign of raspberry cane borer. Cut shoots about 2 feet below tip end and trash-bag them, as they have the borer inside. Head lettuce is not heat tolerant, especially in dry soil. Keep lettuce well watered to prevent bitterness and keep it from going to seed. Beef up compost pile with grass clippings. Never use dog or cat litter on compost or on vegetable garden. It's OK for nonedible plants such as trees or shrubs. Mid-July is last date to pinch mums. Later pinching will prevent blooming before frost hits. If you own a greenhouse, give it a coating of latex house paint to keep summer heat out. Mix 1 part cheap grade outdoor paint to 8 parts of water and apply with sprayer or paint roller with long handle.
Bush beans, zucchini, and other crops are maturing fast due to hot weather. Pick daily for continuous supply. Cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower can be set out, if you haven't done so. Keep them watered regularly for fast growth. July 10 planting of sweet corn is worth the gamble if your area has a late frost date. Get after weeds in the asparagus patch. Weeds are plentiful now and pulling them before they go to seed is good procedure. Since frost will be coming in another three months, sow a few seeds of Pixie for indoor tomatoes. Early July is still time to plant a few Romano pole beans (70 days), an old favorite with a unique delicious flavor. Vines are loaded with long, tender, wide-podded stringless green beans. An excellent all-round bean for the home garden. For second planting of sweet corn try to plant pole beans in with corn and let them run up the stalks. Melons like lots of water and plenty of heat. You can hasten ripening by placing melons on a sheet of aluminum or small piece of plywood or flat stone. Extra heat pushes them along and also makes the fruit cleaner. A July summer snack boosts tomatoes along. Scatter fertilizer or pour around base of plant a few inches away from the stem and mix it with the soil, using a hoe or cultivator. A liquid organic fertilizer works fine on tomatoes that are sluggish now.
Summer is at its peak. In this region it's called ``high summer.'' The soil is heated, winds get gustier, and everything gets drier. It can be a battle, so add another inch or so of mulch on the old layer to keep soil temperatures cooler and to preserve precious water. Keep crops coming by picking daily. Plants that have ``had it'' should be hauled to the compost to save nutrients and water. If you irrigate, avoid overhead irrigators, as you lose about one-third of the water to the atmosphere. A soaker hose or some form of trickle irrigation is fine. In early July, for fall crops, you can plant carrots, beets, chard, limas, okra, more lettuce, and onions. Plant seeds of cole crops in sun-filtered cold frame for August transplanting. Add some rotted cow manure or compost to the rose bed. Continue soaking flower beds and vegetable patches for high yields. Late corn should be well tassled now. A few drops of mineral oil where silks come out of ear will eliminate earworms. Early cabbage tends to form cracked heads when growing too fast. Prevent this by grabbing the head and giving the plant a slight jerk, until you hear a few roots snap. Keep shade and fruit trees and shrubs watered during dry spells. Pick peaches and plums as soon as they separate from stems with a slight twist. Late-bearing apples and pears should be thinned now. Try to have them approximately five inches apart for better-quality fruit.
You can get a good second crop of turnips, beets, lettuce, carrots, summer squash, cantaloupe, snap beans, and black-eyed peas from a mid-July planting. Peppers and tomatoes too will be welcome fall fare. You can harvest late-fall parsnips and Brussels sprouts if seed is planted by end of July and kept 0000009 watered. In early July plant cucumbers, watermelon, New Zealand spinach, corn, and sweet potatoes. Save lawn clippings for the garden. Used as mulch now they'll return to the soil as valuable nutrients. Everbearing strawberries, blueberries, and grapes like a uniform supply of water and a good mulch to retain it. Blueberries need an acid soil so should be fed an acid fertilizer during the growing season. Herb growers should take advantage of the good drying weather and prepare herbs for packaging. Gardeners in humid areas can use the oven with the light on or an electric dehydrator. Acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons and azaleas can get a light feeding now. Use fertilizer especially for acid-lovers. Add extra mulch, after soil is given a good soaking. Hold off pinching mums after mid-July. Give them extra feeding with favorite fertilizer, fish emulsion, manure ``tea'' (for organic gardeners), or any balanced commercial fertilizer. Slip nylon hose over grape clusters to save from wasp and bird injury.
Outdoor garden chores are at a snail's pace about now, with time to plan and prepare new beds for planting in August. Debris left over from the spring garden should be composted (except diseased plants). Pick limas and other dry beans at the dry pod stage for storing, or tender pod stage for eating now. Still time for setting out sweet potato plants. Check corn ears, as they mature fast in high heat. Newcomers to Region F soon find it pays to be an early-orning gardener, since early morning is the coolest part of the day to do debugging, pruning, and other chores. July heat causes two problems, dry soils and wilted plants. To avoid evaporation, water early or after sundown. Use any mulch material you can get. Shredded papers, watered down, can augment your supply. In late July, sow seeds of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, kale, cabbage, celery, collards, peppers, and tomatoes. Some hot-region gardeners start seeds in cold frames. To reduce heat, they use spare window screens for extra ventilation and partial shade for seedlings. Good protection against insects and driving rains, also. July is a fine time to cut out old canes of raspberries (red and black) and boysenberries. In late July prepare bed for strawberries. Keep citrus, figs, papaya, and avocado well watered and mulched, especially if soil is sandy. First week of July give mum plants another pinching, and nip out tips of dahlias and marguerite daisies. Be sure roses have enough mulch and give them a liquid feeding.