Margaret's garden clogs and trowelJULY RAISES THE QUESTION: How am I going to get things (including myself) through the usually hotter, often drier weeks of high summer that lie ahead, Japanese beetles, slugs, powdery mildew and all? Time to take stock, and take control—as much as one ever can with taming the wilderness that is the garden! Here’s what we can do:

Some “fixes” are obvious: I’ll raise the deck on the mower to a longer cut, assuming the weather heats up and rain tapers. I’ll soak beds deeply (unless ample rain does first!), then clean up their edges and top up mulch. In many spots I’m being downright brutal with more “edits” and cutbacks. (I know, I gave a lot of haircuts in June to things like perennial geraniums and euphorbias, but the barbershop is still open here apparently, with bleeding hearts, groundcover sedums that flowered recently, Phalaris or ribbon grass and more getting hacked to the ground. Celandine poppy, or Stylophorum diphyllum, too.)

July is also a big month for the vegetable garden, and not just of harvesting: I’m sowing fresh crops to enjoy this fall (like more peas); more on doing a tuneup in the edible garden below.

Frankly, July always starts out as Throw In the Trowel Month here, and I often do feel overwhelmed. But then summer shapes up and the heat-loving plants—tall perennials, ornamental grasses, vegetables we’ve waited all year to taste again–have their day.

weeding and watering

WEED! Make a pass through each bed each week, since weeds are not just unsightly but steal moisture, nutrients and light from desired plants. Again: Top up mulch to help in the plight.

OBSERVE 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 plastic sheeting, 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.

GARDENS NEED AN INCH OF WATER a week from you or the heavens. Check your rain gauge. Soak beds deeply in the root zone, but don’t spritz things with a sprayer now and again like you’re washing the car. That’s a garden no-no. Containers, especially smallish ones in sun, need daily attention, and they also need periodic feeding. Be alert!


IF YOU ARE IN JAPANESE BEETLE territory, handpick each morning and again later in the day. Drown in a can of soapy water. Remember, we can’t eliminate them; we have to manage them. Consider a biological (non-toxic) control to further help reduce overwintering grub population with nematodes or perhaps Milky Spore inoculation, or one of the other biologicals covered in this government bulletin for homeowners (pdf).

WITH OTHER OBVIOUS pests like tomato hornworms, squash bugs, Colorado potato beetles or imported cabbage worms, I do the same: handpick early each morning, and destroy.  And then I do a very serious fall cleanup, removing all debris to a distance (I compost it at my office, where there is no vegetable garden).

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

trees & shrubs

STOP FEEDING woody plants if you are, as I am, in a zone that has a cold winter. 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 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.

ALWAYS BE on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs and prune it 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.

vegetable, fruit and herbs

SEND IN SOIL SAMPLES for testing if you’re seeing poor results in some beds. Contact your local cooperative extension for details on how to sample and where to send it.

CONTINUE SOWING carrots, beets, radishes, lettuce, dill. I re-sow some broccoli cousins such as spigarello, and kales, plus fall peas. 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 this very minute (your timing may vary; I am Zone 5B).  About planning the fall vegetable garden.

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, as harvest time nears. When several lower leaves yellow, but about five topmost ones are still green—some experts say four or five, some say five or six–carefully lift a head or two to judge readiness. If good, lift 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 for October-ish planting. (I love ‘German Extra Hardy,’ also called ‘German Stiffneck.’)

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.

flower garden

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!

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.


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

compost heap

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. Evee M says:

    I have one question about sowing seeds for perennials this time of year—how hot is too hot for seeds to germ? What can you do to start these successfully in hot little black nursery pots?

  2. Cathy says:

    Hi Margaret – I bought 2 shrub roses last year with the promise that they were pest resistant. All of the leaves look like lace and not in a good way! any idea what I can do? I do not use chemicals and I know you feel the same way.


  3. Phillip Wilkinson says:

    I had an invasion of chipmunks in my shade garden and use sliced apple and ” have-a-heart ” cage to relocate them to a wildlife area.

  4. Liza says:

    Great list! What about powdery mildew? I read the post twice – did I miss it? My viburnum tinys hedge is covered for the first time ever – as is some nearby nandina. Is neem oil the answer? Prune most of the infected branches first? Thanks so much!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Liza. It’s easier prevented and somewhat managed than it is ever “cured,” so you have to get out ahead of it by growing resistant varieties, spacing them well (nothing too overpacked into an area, no mildew prone things near walls/house/in corners without good air circulation, etc. There are various home remedies plus things like Neem concoctions that people spray, and this article lists some.

  5. Beverly, zone 6 eastern PA says:

    I have harvested my German Extra Hardy garlic already, with only 11 of 18 usable. In two of the last 4 years the harvests were less than impressive. (not sprouting at all, sprouting then failing or sprouting/rotting before harvest) The leaves this year yellowed faster than my other two types and spurred me on to action, between drenching downpours from 2 weeks of almost daily thunderstorms. Hmmmmm, that’s probably a factor. For my area, varieties called Music and German Porcelain seem to be more reliable in terms of percentage of success. I believe I will concentrate on those two next year. I made 3 batches of Garlic Scape Pesto (thank goodness for a food processor), each one slightly different, and all were STRONG and delicious. Lots in the freezer to bring a taste of summer when the snow swirls. Going outside to pull more weeds NOW.

  6. Tim says:

    I battled powdery mildew in my former Long Island, NY grape vineyard for many years. The most satisfying remedies were the sulfur and copper sprays. They’re organic, safe, and the sulfur was also biodegradable.

  7. Cene says:

    Cathy : cut your roses back – with all of the rain- I’ve gotton 3 flushes with my roses- then they go through a pretty ugly stage. Cut your shrub back & fertilize every 2 weeks. They will make a remarkable comeback.

  8. Dd says:

    My winter squash seeds are only germinating now! I didn’t see anything in your post about a later crop of squash. Wondering if its too late and I should pull them up and plant something else in my midcoast Maine garden.

  9. Debra Petke says:

    I used to have a serious powdery mildew problem with phlox but have found a highly effective and inexpensive solution: crush two 325 mg. aspirin in a quart of water as a foliar spray. This is most effective if you spray once a week from the first signs of growth-my phlox have no powdery mildew this year despite the horrible heat and humidity in CT. Thanks for the mention of the May Sarton book, Margaret. I have to read it. I also have a tuxedo cat named Bella who shares Jack’s love of hunting critters, pots as lounge chairs and running the household.

  10. Kris says:

    My hemlock have woolly adelgid. Margaret what would you suggest I do to get rid of it?
    In regard to using vinegar to treat weeds on the driveway or patios, I use pickling vinegar which has 10% acidity. It is very successful. Regular vinegar has 5% acidity and is not as effective. I have also used boiled water.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Kris. Sorry to hear about the adelgid. They are tough to control unless you are super-vigilant and get them early and can be damaging/deadly. Often horticultural oil is used to suffocate them (dormant and also summer spray — but you must coat ALL plant parts, no mean feat on a tree-sized specimen). There are also chemical controls. Information on that, and some frequently asked Qs and As — including the tip NOT to fertilize and so on.

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