my july 2012 garden chores

TAKING STOCK: That’s how my July starts in the garden–with a good, hard look at how I’m going to get things (myself?) through the usually hotter, drier weeks of high summer that lie ahead, Japanese beetles, powdery mildew and all. I’m raising the deck on the mower to a longer cut; soaking beds deeply then cleaning up their edges and topping up the mulch; and in many spots I’m being downright brutal with more “edits” and cutbacks. July is also a big month in the vegetable garden, and not just of harvest: Soon I’ll plant fresh crops to enjoy this fall (like more peas!).

First, though, I recommend a long, hard look. I walked around outside the last week of June with a pad and pen–and a critical eye. In the flurry of spring prep, planting and pruning, I’d been working around some problems rather than tackling them properly.

Where perennials or even worse, shrubs, are bulging out of the beds and drooping onto the lawn, it’s time for a decision. (And no, the decision cannot be “mow around them and deal with it later,” which is what I always do in a few spots in spring.) Time to either reduce the plants by division or pruning, or make the bed bigger, easing passage around its perimeter. I’m doing some of each (but waiting for fall weather for the divisions if it stays hot and relatively dry here).

Prefer the Podcast?

LISTEN TO THE JULY CHORES in my latest weekly podcast with Robin Hood Radio, WHDD in Sharon, Connecticut, the smallest NPR station in the nation, if you prefer. Stream it here, or subscribe free on iTunes.

NOW, ONWARD! JULY STARTS OUT as Throw In the Trowel Month here, with June’s cutbacks still looking pretty rough. But then summer shapes up and the heat-lovers have their day.

FIRST, THE HAIRCUTS: If you were squeamish about cutting things back as spring faded in June, you may be regretting it now, and facing floppy, exhausted plants in certain spots. Some things (like certain perennial geraniums, for instance) do better if hacked back hard, even now. Go for it (then water well). Others need just deadheading of spent blooms. Annuals that grow leggy can often benefit from a chop job, too. Do some experiments. Sometimes a plant can’t look worse, and you probably won’t kill it.

Yes, I’d cleaned up last month from spring’s spent show, but now I’m going through a second time and cutting down or thinning (a.k.a. pulling out) some excess celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), for example, and cutting down bleeding hearts that look pekid, too.

WEED! MAKE A PASS through each bed each week, since weeds are not just unsightly but steal moisture, nutrients and light from desired plants. Top up mulch in all garden beds if washed or worn away to help in the plight.

LOOK WHILE WEEDING: Try to remember what’s done well (or not) so far in each bed. Make notes, to plan for fall reworking of problem spots, or a bed redesign. Are some spots that seem to invite weeds to sow with abandon—like the driveway, or other gravel surfaces, or cracks between pavers—requiring hours of finger-numbing work (or, more likely, just being left unweeded)? Again, decision time. To solarize (lay down black plastic sheeting, weighted with rocks, and use summer heat and sun to cook the weeds to death over a few weeks)? Or to spray? I say no to chemical herbicides, so there are sheets of plastic here and there, and the scuffle hoe is getting a workout, too.

IF YOU ARE IN JAPANESE BEETLE territory, as I am this year, handpick each morning and again later in the day (as with other obvious pests like tomato hornworms or imported cabbage worms) and drown in a can of soapy water to reduce infestation. For the Japanese beetles, plan to reduce their overwintering grub population with nematodes or perhaps Milky Spore inoculation.

OR MAYBE SLUGS AND SNAILS are proliferating? Some tactics on dealing with them.

GARDENS NEED AN INCH OF WATER a week from you or the heavens. Check your rain gauge, and remember: soak deeply in the root zone, don’t spritz things with a sprayer now and again like you’re washing the car. That’s a garden no-no. Those plants living in pots need extra attention, especially smallish ones in sun, and they also need regular feeding. Be alert!


STOP FEEDING woody plants. Promoting more soft growth in high summer and beyond isn’t good; time for them to start moving toward the hardening-off phase of their cycle. No more eats till late winter or earliest spring.

TREES ARE especially vulnerable to drought, if you’re having a dry year, particularly the oldest and the youngest (those planted in the last few years). Water deeply, as with a Tree-Gator. Ugly…but better than not watering these precious members of the garden and landscape.

ALWAYS BE on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs and prune them out as discovered. Ditto with suckers and water sprouts.

SPRING-FLOWERING shrubs like lilacs reach the end of their pruning window after July 4th here, otherwise risking damage to emerging buds for next year’s blooms.

THROUGH MONTH’S END, softwood cuttings of buddleia, weigela, rose-of-sharon and roses, among other shrubs, can be taken to propagate more plants inexpensively.


SEND IN SOIL SAMPLES for testing if you’re not liking results you’re getting in some beds. Contact your local cooperative extension for details on how to sample and where to send it.

STRAWBERRY BEDS may appreciate rejuvenation now.

KEEP ASPARAGUS well weeded and water it, too. Let asparagus ferns grow till hard frost to feed the underlying crowns.

GARLIC may start to fade and topple anytime now, as harvest time nears. When several lower leaves yellow, but five or six are still green, try carefully lifting a head or two to judge readiness, before lifting all to cure during a warm, dry spell in an airy, sheltered place. How to judge the right harvest moment. Or read all about growing garlic, and even storing your harvest–and don’t forget, order bulbs now to get the variety you want. (I love ‘German Extra Hardy,’ also called ‘German Stiffneck.’)

CONTINUE SOWING carrots, beets, radishes, lettuce, dill. With salad greens, select heat-resistant varieties, and sow small amounts every 10 days. I do it under a couple of hoops with a bit of Reemay clothes-pinned onto them to cast some shade. Direct-sow a short row of bush beans every two weeks through month’s end, and another mound of bush cukes and zucchini right now.

FOR PEAK FLAVOR, basil, sage, marjoram and oregano, mint, tarragon are best harvested just before bloom. Start more basil from seed for combining with those September tomatoes, and dill for late pickles. Harvest lavender, rosemary and chamomile as they flower, blossoms and all.


POTS IN PARTICULAR need regular, thorough watering (sometimes more than once a day if they’re small and in full sun!) throughout the heat of high summer. Vigilance!

SOW VIOLAS (and pansies in zones where they overwinter) in flats indoors for set-out in fall, where they’ll appreciate a protective mulch after the ground freezes. Fall-planted violas bloom earlier next spring.

PRUNE RAMBLER ROSES and once-blooming climbers now, after their flowering period.

MANY PERENNIALS and biennials can be started now from seed, then set out in the fall into nursery beds.

I MOW THE foliage of my ripened daffodil drifts around July 4th. Deadhead faded perennials unless they have showy seedheads (same with bulbs), or you want to collect seed later (non-hybrids only).

ARE ANNUAL VINES getting the continuing support they need, whether twine, wire, lattice? Perennial types like Clematis may need a bit of help, too.

ORDER BULBS to get varieties you want (see Resources for catalog suggestions). Remember our “early, middle, late” mantra when doing so.

PREPARE NEW beds for fall planting by smothering grass or weeds with layers of recycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top.

EDGE BEDS to make a clean line and define them, and keep edges clean with regular fine-tuning with grass shears. A clean edge makes a big difference.


Houseplants, including amaryllis, can spend the summer outdoors, in a sheltered location with filtered bright light (not direct sun). Feed regularly.

Don’t bag or rake clippings; let them lie on the lawn to return Nitrogen to the soil.


Don’t let the heap dry out completely, or it will not “cook.” Turning it to aerate will also hasten decomposition, but things will rot eventually even if not turned.

On using this list in your garden: The monthly A Way to Garden chores and based on my Zone 5B Berkshire MA/Hudson Valley NY location; adjust accordingly.

  1. Carol Hanson says:


    Love your site. what’s the name of the pretty lavender poppy in your latest post? I have all kinds of poppies but none this color and would like to have it. thanks

  2. Nolie Freeman says:

    Margaret – as always you’re words lead to inspiration! I just put your new book on my Amazon Wish List and will order it as soon as it’s available, but I like to combine orders for free shipping – gotta love free shipping! Looking forward to your next book – it will hopefully be on my “winter” pile. Also hot and steamy here in the upper Midwest – I feel your pain, but it leads to such bliss. Don’t get overwhelmed by the whole. Also, I’m now inspired to go out and take shrub cuttings. Thanks as always.

  3. Anne Allbeury-Hock says:

    Hi Margaret…I hope to come to visit your Garden on August 18 if that is still the
    date for the tour. Let me know if there is an inexpen. motel around your
    town where I can stay that night. I will be driving up from Douglaston. Gardening in
    Maryland at this time consists of moving hoses and trimming sun burned hostas.
    This is a very marginal area for many things…either they freeze or cook! the blossom end rot ended itself strangely…I grow mostly the small varieties and eat one as I work. Best from Anne

  4. For me, July is all about finding a way to stay ahead of the weeds and avoiding the nasty new mosquito that has invaded Long Island. Unfortunately it is out and about all day and the mean little blood-suckers love me! Any info on how to fend them off would be welcomed. Even bathing in DEET doesn’t help. (And I hate doing that!) Love your site, Margaret. I learn so much here.

  5. Eliot says:

    I found your website while I was trying to find a good way to freeze peaches without an enormous amount of sugar. (I did use the white grape juice btw.) I am so glad I found it! I love your garden tips and will continue to root around. Maybe you can keep me and my garden on track!

  6. sandra barnes says:

    I feel like chucking in the trowel when every evening I lift pots to find the dreaded vine weevil. Do you have trouble with them? We have had so much rain in England for the month of June it makes you feel like not bothering. The rain has brought out all the slugs and snails and I am forever searching in the dark for them. Never mind we have the dahlias and agapanthus to look forward to!! Love your website.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Sandra. I do have what we call Taxus weevil here — the black vine weevil, as you say. Chews notches into the edges of Rhododendron and so on. I don’t use any of the nasty chemical drenches that take care of them, so I guess I just put up with them, but UGH. Thanks for your kind words!

  7. Jody Collins says:

    Margaret–I WISH I had these trials–heat, harvesting, overgrowth–to deal with. The Pacific Northwest is so very cool. The joke around these parts is that summer starts on the 5th of July…when it will be a whopping 70-75 degrees. We are blessed, for sure.
    My vegetable garden is doing fabulously and I’ve harvested plenty of arugula and lettuce, but the peas have yet to appear. I was a late planter–Memorial Day–as this is my first vegetable garden (in my 20 year old rose bed–took ’em all out and put them in 10 gallon containers.)
    Anyway–your chore list is great/helpful. I love your new book and the old one–A Way to Garden. Can’t wait until the new one comes out.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Jody. Friends who just moved to the Northwest are having a bit of an adjustment. Sounds nice, but I know it means some things don’t harden off/ripen quite right, either. Glad the list helps, even with the difference in zones. Nice to see you here.

  8. iris hazen says:

    Hi Margaret, Reading comments from other gardeners all across the USA and the Big Pond, I need to add my comment from Toronto, Canada. It’s been brutal here! The temperatures breaking all time record highs, plus high humidity! I’m an organic gardener,and the beloved Japanese Beetle just starting on pale coloured roses. Black spot evident on older roses and Hybrid T’s. Thank goodness our annual rose show was two weeks ago, and we had a respectable showing….a few days before this killer heat. My many, seems like hundreds, of perennials are suffering….not enough hours to water everything sufficiently! (My two cats prefer to be indoors).
    Soaker hoses throughout my garden keep springing leaks! And a nightly visit from
    a mother raccoon and her two adorable offspring eating Iris tubers, overturning pots, then disassembling my birds favorite water feature, is proving to be too much! Please
    pray for rain for us and I’ll try to send some heat your way. Thanks for listening to my rant…..we know this too shall pass! love your site!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Iris. Nice to see you here. I am so sad about weather around the country — so many places far worse off than I am, but not really wonderful anywhere. I am inundated by Japanese beetles as well, and squirrels upending everything. Crazy.

  9. Marcia Stohlberg says:

    I’ve had wonderful success keeping my soil moist and cool by mulching beds, pots, hanging baskets and windowboxes with Premium Ground Cover by Lucerne Farms. It’s a straw and weed free hay mulch chopped in about 2 inch pieces, so it’s tidy looking and so easy to position around the plants. It nourishes the soil, too, which is an added bonus. My plants have never looked better in the heat of July!

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