July in Zone 9 is a great month to sit and sweat (unless you live in the western portions of the zone where the “dry heat” allegedly makes sweating a less prevalent summer activity.) It is too hot in most of the zone to plant most young plants unless you can provide shade for them. If you can stand to be outside, planning for a fall garden is a good activity. You might use this down time to build a raised bed or start a new perennial bed that you will plant in October. Here are some other chores that can be done this month.
• Provide some shade for your vegetables. It will be as helpful as a deep watering during the blistering heat. Use floating row cover or shade cloth or other vegetables, such as pole beans, to shade collards or turnips.
• Continue picking your vegetables as soon as they are ripe. One cucumber or tomato left on the vine too long can slow down its production dramatically. (If vacationing this month, ask a fellow gardener to tend your crops.)
• Consider planting low growing plants at the base of the vegetables to help keep the soil cool. A Creeping Thyme or white Alyssum would be a delightful addition.
• Consider letting your pole beans run up your okra plants.
• Continue to plant garlic alongside vegetables that it compliments. The scent will be a great asset in driving away pests. For tomatoes, it helps with spider mites. It is effective in protecting cucumbers, radishes, chard, beans and peanuts from some diseases. Garlic will also help ward off rabbits. See Companion Planting.
• Make sure to keep air flow at the top of your concerns for your tomatoes. Pinch off non-fruiting branches, as they are an energy drain and keep sunlight and fresh air away from the fruit.
• Reduce watering your tomatoes when the fruit begins to color. This will cause the fruit to develop more sugar and improve the flavor.
• Keep up with weeding and deadheading. The benefits are tremendous. Use care when using any tools to weed. You do not want to damage tender roots of nearby plants. A sharp shuffle hoe is good to cut weeds off just below the soil surface.
• Continue to sow zinnias and cosmos in the flower beds. Cut back spent annuals by half to encourage new growth and more blooms.
• Fertilize plants in pots monthly with a fish emulsion or ‘compost tea.’ Potted plants will dry out quicker than plants in the ground, so water more frequently.
• Deadhead yarrow and coneflowers to promote new blooms.
• Favorites for butterflies: salvias, lantana, Russian sage, dianthus and verbena. They also love natives like black-eyed Susan, milkweed, thistle and Joe-Pye weed.
• Choose your favorite small succulents, from Home Depot, a bag of cactus soil mix and a shallow horizontal container (with drainage hole) and assemble an arrangement for the patio. Provide dappled light to a variety of succulent heights and textures and sit back to enjoy.
• Angel Trumpets attract hummingbirds, butterflies and the hummingbird moth. They are heavy feeders and like A LOT of food. Continue feeding them monthly through August.
• Butterfly bushes are mostly deer resistant (nothing is truly safe from them if they are hungry). This time of year the deer are a bit more focused on fruit trees and vegetable gardens.
• Camellias need no annual pruning, as do some flowering shrubs. Do examine the camellias for pests. Do not use a insecticidal oil when temps are above 80 degrees, as it will ‘fry’ the soft tissue of the leaves. Sometimes a blast of water from the hose, followed by a soapy spray, will be helpful in knocking off aphids. Other pests may need more severe treatment. Check the shelves at your Home Depot for appropriate treatment.
• Before using any commercial product, accurately define and identify the problem / pest to be treated and follow label directions for anything you use. Use the least harsh measures first (spraying water, insecticidal soaps, etc.) to see if they work before resorting to chemicals.
• Continue to plant garlic, onions, shallots and parsley next to your roses to protect them from rose beetles, aphids, black spot and mildew. In fact, these plants are good tucked all over the garden to repel pests.
• If you are experiencing drought conditions in your area, water your trees first. Annuals and perennials, even lawns, can be repaired or replaced. Trees cannot.
• Trees appreciate an infrequent, deep and slow watering, outside of the tree’s canopy. Using a drip hose is good for this. Leave the drip on for an hour or more once a week.
• Consider planting a Japanese Black Pine (pinus thunbergii) which can provide shade, grow to 70 ‘ and tolerate drought, any type of soil and even salt. Always provide optimal space when siting a planting spot for your new trees. Don’t plant on the south or east side of your vegetable garden or you will have lovely shade where you don’t want it.
• Raise the height of your mower deck to two inches or more. The taller grass blades will help shade their own tender roots and conserve water. Allow your grass clippings to stay on the ground. They are rich in nitrogen and you won’t have to fertilize as much.
• July is a good time to lay sod of some hot weather turf grasses, such as zoysia, Bermuda and St. Augustine. Till three to six inches, rake smooth and lay sod. Water deeply and repeat every few days until the sod becomes established. You’ll know because the grass roots will take hold and you can’t pull the sod away from the ground.
• When watering the lawn, water deeply – about an inch — once a week if rain doesn’t provide enough moisture. You can create a fungus in the turf by over-watering.