It’s Time to Take a Break in the July Vegetable Garden
For most gardeners July is a slow month in the vegetable garden, some might call it a dormant season. The heat and lack of rain can adversely affect growth and pollination, so after the tomato harvest winds down, the beans peter out and the squash succumbs to heat and pests, it’s a good time to take a break and focus on the upcoming fall season.
Start Planning the Fall Garden
Check your seed inventory and peruse seed catalogs for varieties you want to plant. Vegetables for the fall garden include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, kale, beets, Swiss chard, carrots and sugar-snap peas, as well as bush beans, cucumbers and summer squash. In choosing frost-tender varieties look for those that have a short ‘days to harvest’, generally less than 65 days, so that plants have enough time to mature and produce before the first anticipated frost in Central Texas, which typically comes the end of November or first week of December.
July Vegetable Garden Checklist:
- Irrigate deeply and as infrequently as possible to encourage deep root growth.
- Mulch all bare soil. Clean up spring planting beds and add a layer of compost, then mulch.
- Over-fertilizing in summer is a common plant killer. Excess fertilizer (especially nitrogen) can burn plants in dry weather. This happens because the salts in fertilizer draw moisture out of plants that they are not able to replenish from soil moisture or retain due to evaporation on hot days. Lack of moisture results in scorched leaves resembling fire damage, or “burn”. Use liquid fertilizers and be sure to water deeply.
- Tomato transplants should be planted in the garden by late July or early August in order to set fruit and produce a harvest before the first freeze. Unruly tomato plants that are still in good condition can be cut back to one-third of their height to encourage healthy, new growth.
Plant a small patch of zinnia or marigold seeds later this month and enjoy their vibrant blooms in the fall garden. A small grouping of plants is easy to tend to (they will need to be watered regularly) and will make a colorful impact when they start to bloom.
- Sketch out a rotation plan for growing vegetables. Crops within the same family are often susceptible to the same pests or diseases. Moving or rotating them to a different location helps break the pest/disease cycle.
Save money by growing your own transplants of cole crops indoors under grow lights. Start planting seeds of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other cole crops later this month so they will be ready for setting in the garden by mid-September.
Diseases/Pests to Look For
- Spider mites thrive in dry, hot conditions and the warmer days will make aphids prevalent on stressed plants. Remove both with blasts of water to the underside of leaves. Remove any heavily infested plants from the garden.
- Pull up any tomato plants that are infested with pest damage or disease. Whatever malady they are suffering from will get worse, not better, during the stress of summer heat. Use green tomatoes for roasted tomato salsa, chow-chow relish, fried green tomatoes, or chop and add to a vegetable sauté.
- Peppers and eggplant handle Texas heat better than tomatoes. Keep them watered and mulched and, even if they pause production during summer’s peak, they will power through and produce a bumper crop this fall.
- Maintain a small oasis for feathered friends. Whether a birdbath or a shallow saucer, provide fresh water daily during the summer. Place the birdbath in an open area with shrubs or trees nearby where birds can have easy access and observe possible threats.
Don’t let one rotten onion or potato spoil the whole bunch. Check your stash of onions or potatoes occasionally for signs (or smells) of rotting.
- Harvest okra pods frequently before they get too big; over-grown okra is tough and stringy.
- Moisture stress, excess heat and poor pollination can cause misshapen cucumbers. While they may not be the cream of the crop, they are perfect candidates for infused water. Add thin slices of cucumber and lime to a jar or pitcher of water, add a few springs of mint and chill for a refreshing and hydrating beverage. Refill with water throughout the day and toss in the compost when the infusion has lost its freshness.