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A Gardening Checklist for July

Sow now for big fall harvests!

The summer solstice has come and gone, which means we’re about to enter the official “dog days” of summer. For Northeast gardeners, July heat means more watering, but also: newly-ripened tomatoes, tender zucchini, and crisp cucumbers! This midpoint in the growing season ushers in spectacular displays of flowers, fresh herbs, and delicious summer flavors–plus, it’s a critical time to sow for fall harvests. The key to big fall harvests is to sow generously at mid-summer and to protect already established crops from pests and other stressors. Find six helpful tips for the month in our checklist below!

Sow for fall harvests.

Many crops can be sown directly outdoors starting now and some as late as mid-August.* These include: Basil, Bok Choy, Beets, Broccoli Raab, Bush Beans, Carrots, Collards, Kale, Fennel, Lettuce, Parsnips, Radishes, Rutabagas, Scallions, Spinach, Summer SquashSunflowers, BorageCalendulaSweet Corn, Tatsoi, and Turnips.

The heat, limited rain, and pest pressure can be tougher on some plants. To offset these challenges, sow the following plants indoors then transplant out after 3 weeks: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Storage CabbageChard, Collards, Cucumbers, Fennel, Kale and Rutabaga.

*Note: From this point onward, our gardens receive fewer daylight hours–which means summer-sown crops take longer to mature than spring-sown crops. To account for this seasonal shift, add 2-3 weeks to the “days to maturity” information found on your seed packs. Use the average first frost date + days to maturity + 2-3 weeks to determine the best time to sow. 

Water well.

The standard suggestion for vegetable watering requirements is one inch per week. The easiest way to measure this is by setting up a rain gauge in the garden and keeping a record of the level every time it rains. If you don't have a rain gauge, a  good rule thumb for most flower and vegetable gardens is 1-2 good soakings from the hose per week. Watering deeply will draw young root systems downward where they are more likely to find moisture during dry spells. You’ll want your weekly watering to seep 8-12 inches below the soil’s surface. If your finger feels completely dry, it is time to water! To conserve water, aim your hose or watering can at plant roots rather than soaking the leaves–ideally, in the mornings or evenings, when temps are cooler. Find more summer watering tips here.

Harvest often.

You’ve put in the work, so don’t forget to harvest! Get out into your vegetable garden every day to poke around for treasures. The best time to harvest is during the morning or evening; when temperatures are cooler, plants will recover more quickly from plucking. Not only is it fun to discover a cucumber or zucchini hiding behind some leaves, for many plants harvesting often will stimulate more fruit production. Get to your lettuce before it bolts (otherwise the leaves can become bitter) and thin your sowings of beets and kale for baby greens. Harvesting often will also allow you to keep a close eye on your crops for signs of pests or fungus. For more harvesting tips, read this post.

Address pests.

Increased humidity and a big overlap in activity of pest life cycles means July is a prime time for attacks from both bugs and diseases. Monitor your plants closely and regularly to prevent large outbreaks.

Diseased parts of plants or whole plants can be pulled out and discarded in a separate compost pile, although it’s always best to know what issue you are dealing with before taking action. Usually, doing an online search for the name of the plant and description of its condition reveals the problem and a number of organic solutions. This page will help you diagnose and troubleshoot tomato issues before they get out of hand.

Our short-term approach to pest control is simple and unpleasant: squish them by hand, ideally while they are still in their egg phase (the long-term goal is to help the garden become a balanced eco-system where good bugs eat bad bugs, for example). The alternative, most often, is either a lost harvest or a garden full of chemicals. Read more about supporting beneficial insects here

Weed as you go.

Every time you get out into the garden to harvest, do a little hand weeding as you go. This is the time of year when many weeds are beginning to set seed, or in other words, beginning to make new weeds. It’s ideal to pull unwanted plants out when they are young because it is easier on the gardener, less stressful for the root system of your plants, and ensure that most available moisture in the soil goes to the crops, rather than being soaked up by weeds. That being said, it is all too easy to let a corner or two of the garden go forgotten and the weeds to take advantage. To buy more time before weeding thoroughly, snip off or weed-wack just the flower or seed heads of the weeds to keep them from self-sowing. 

Care for the soil.

The middle of the growing season is a great time to help out our hard-working soils. Side dress existing plants with a little compost, mulch, or foliar feed to help the crops beat the stress of heat and keep your soil healthy. When replacing spring/summer crops with fall plantings, keep soil in mind when planning where to place your new crops. For example, following peas or beans, which release nitrogen into the soil, with heavy feeders such as carrots or beets will help maintain the mineral balance in your soil. 

It's important to keep soil covered since wind, sun, and rain can erode and deplete soil of its nutrients. Mulch bare patches or sow a cover crop of buckwheat or clover to build healthier soil.

And, finally, remember to stay cool, drink water, and take breaks in the shade often.

A few more ideas for this month:

  • Deadhead flowering annuals and perennials to promote more blooms.
  • Start saving seeds in a cool dry place. Find seed saving supplies here.
  • Stay on top of climbing, sprawling plants by using stakes or other supports. 
  • Fertilize heavy feeders. Find amendments here.
  • Maintain your compost pile.
  • Stake dahlias if you haven't already.
  • Grass grows more slowly in the heat–mow less often and set blades a little higher.