July gardening in the chaparral
Now that the 4th of July is past, we are officially into the summer. Chances are we will not be seeing a lot of cloud cover or many days under 90′ Fahrenheit – if any – for at least the next couple of months. That means that working in the garden will be best done early in the morning or late in the day when the sun is not so strong. Wear a hat and sunblock anyway. The ultraviolet rays are strong here in the higher elevations of the chaparral. Although we are not technically a desert biome, in some parts of the California chaparral, desert landscaping concepts will work well.
- Make sure that brush on the hills and in open areas, dead stuff in the gardens, and gutters are all cleared out. Fire season is any time and you don’t want any of those sneaky fire fuel sources to pile up on you while you’re not watching. With all the rain we had this winter, there is plenty of fuel built up and you don’t want fires anywhere near your home and family.
- Lawns will need cutting and edging. Since they are high maintenance and water-guzzlers, keep lawn areas to where they will be most useful. Other spaces can be filled with decorative drought-tolerant gardens, colorful stone or pavers, or used for productive things like vegetable, herb or flower-cutting gardens.
- Keep pulling out weeds while they are small and before they get established in your garden or lawn areas.
- Add a top layer of compost as mulch. Mulch works as a barrier to keep out the heat of the beating sun while slowing evaporation and locking in precious water around plant roots. For California natives and drought-tolerant plants mulch with twigs and stones – the usual stuff that covers our non-cultivated land. For cactus and succulent gardens, try a layer of pebbles, gravel or pea gravel. You can even find decorative stone in a wide range of colors that will make your garden ornamental. Small, hard material like gravel will not absorb water and will keep the vulnerable necks of your plants (where the roots join the plant body) from rotting.
- Irrigate early in the morning. On or before sunrise is best. Check water systems during the day to make regular adjustments you might miss if you are still asleep when your irrigation goes on. If water pools or runs off anywhere, then cut down the application time and turn it off for 15 minutes or more to soak into the soil. Then set it to run again. Water in consecutive periods for however long it takes to let the water permeate to at least 4 – 6” deep without running off. If you can afford it, consider buying a smart irrigation timer that will take care of these water adjustments for you.
- Check drip irrigation systems for breaks and leaks.
- Plant vegetables from already started plants in containers. The only vegetables that will germinate from seeds in a timely manner now will be root crops like beets, radishes and carrots. Crop zucchinis often before they get too big and drain the parent plant of energy. Avoid planting cold-weather crops like cabbage, peas and fava beans. Keep a sharp lookout for insect pests. If you spy them early, a hosing of water or a spray of an insecticidal soap should be all you need for control.
- All plants will bloom more and longer if you keep them deadheaded. This means that you want to cut off wilting flowers before they set seed. Setting seed will drain the plant of energy. Annuals typically want to keep blooming in order to set as much seed as they can before they die. These are short-lived plants that will only last a single season anyway, so they will keep blooming in the attempt to set more seed if you keep spent flowers removed.
- Prune plants lightly for shape and to cut out dead or crossing branches. July is not a good time for heavy pruning.
- If you do any new planting, water the newcomers daily for at least a week if they are in sun. And if you can shade them for the first day or two in July heat, they will appreciate it. You can plant at this time of year, but even tough natives will have to be coddled.
- Spend hot days designing ideas for new features in your garden. Autumn will be here sooner than you think and that will be a good time for outdoor projects. Make your home a comfortable place to enjoy regardless of its sales value. You might as well enjoy living in your house while the housing market slowly recovers. Plus, with the constant rise in the cost of building materials due to world demand, chances are you will get better prices now than later to do any new construction Any improvements will still increase the relative value of your house when real estate prices recover. So if you want to add a hot tub, a fire pit, an outdoor room, a water feature or a barbecue, these will all add value to your house in the future while you get to enjoy them now.
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