With the heat of summer, it’s time to be sure that summer mulches are in place. Proper use of organic mulch can help to reduce soil moisture loss by up to 70 percent. Plus, the insulating ability of mulch helps keep the soil cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Another important reason to mulch is to suppress weed invasions, particularly the annual weeds like spurge, barnyard grass, foxtail, and purslane. Apply at least a two-inch layer of straw or dried grass clippings to choke out weed seedlings and prevent them from seeing the light of day. Leaves are perhaps the least expensive mulch, but they can come with some disadvantages. Some leaves are difficult to apply evenly; for example, cottonwood and other waxy leaves mat together and take years to decompose. Shredding leaves before using them will help them decompose more quickly.
• Make notes as your perennials come into bloom. Write down which ones are weak in bloom and might need dividing. A “doughnut” of foliage circling a dead center indicates that after blooming is finished, you need to dig the plant and separate.
• Cut back lily stalks by about half after they finish blooming, leaving some leaves to nourish the bulb for next year’s flowers.
• Harvest gladiolus spikes when the flowers on the bottom third are starting to open, the middle third are swollen, and the top third are held tight. Keep four leaves on the plant after cutting, so bulbs can replenish themselves.
• Newly planted perennials should receive one inch of water a week during the growing season, either from rain or through irrigation. Established perennials usually do not need supplemental watering, but If they start to wilt before noon, give them a deep soaking.
• In hot, drying winds, annuals in containers may need to be watered every day. Stick your fingers at least two inches into the soil to check.
• Make a habit of deadheading flowering annuals and perennials to prevent infection by the mold pathogens. It will also encourage more blooms.
• The best time to clip flowers for drying is midday. The flowers should be in peak form. Remove the leaves and hang upside down in a dry, dark, well-ventilated area for drying.
• Pick green beans before they reach full size and before their pods begin to swell from the ripening beans inside. You will have better tasting beans, and the plants will produce more beans for a longer time.
• Store ripe tomatoes and eggplants at room temperature. Storing in the refrigerator destroys their flavor and texture. Pick eggplants while their skins are still glossy and have a slight give.
• Harvest cherry tomatoes regularly. They will crack after a rain, so if rain is coming, harvest them beforehand. They will continue to ripen on the counter in the kitchen.
• Pick broccoli rabe daily to keep your plants producing. The soft shoots with flower buds attached are the best.
• If you’ve covered cucumbers and squash with floating covers to prevent pests, be sure to uncover them as soon as they begin to bloom so the pollinators can get to them. If you do end up with squash vine borers, slit the stem, remove the borer, and bury the damaged part of the stem so it can heal itself.
• Garlic leaves starting to brown is an indicator the bulbs are ready to harvest. The general rule is when three-fifths of the leaves have browned, dig the bulbs.
• Harvest onions for curing when the tops begin to fall over. Dig gently and lay on clean grass or straw for a few days to dry, then move to a drying rack out of the sun for several weeks.
• Harvest kohlrabi and turnips before they get huge. They are at their peak flavor and tenderness around golf ball size.
• Reduce moisture on leaves and fruit by watering the base of the plant with drip irrigation, a soaker hose, or simply by directing the hose at the ground and not the leaves.
• Keep an eye out for the iridescent green Japanese beetle. Hand-pick and drop in a bucket of soapy water to kill them. Blanket sprays don’t work very well.
• Lettuce, endive, and other summer greens should be left to go to seed. They will plant your fall crop for you, as well as next spring’s crop.
• Put your cabbage family transplants for fall in the garden by mid-July. Seed beets, turnips, and Swiss chard by the end of July, but wait until August to plant lettuce, spinach, and radishes.