Margaret's garden clogs and trowel

EACH JULY DAY is a stern little conversation or two (or 10): with myself, to push onward; with certain weeds to please stop being so pushy; with the sky (if things get hot and dry) to please, please, please consider the regular concept of proper, soaking rain.

Often, as July begins, I want to throw in the trowel; mow the whole place down or turn it under (think: bulldozer).

Years ago, I wrote an essay, confessing that July always starts out as Throw In the Trowel Month for me, as in: “I give up!” If you’re feeling stuck, like the garden just isn’t “working,” it might help to read it.

Thankfully, though, there is payoff—new potatoes, a tomato finally, perhaps, and then garlic harvest as the month winds on. There are also problems to be managed (hello, Japanese beetles, and squash bugs), plus more plans to be put into place, to get from here to fall without getting engulfed, and overwhelmed. That’s July in the garden here: busy, but with benefits.

Raise the mower deck; man the sprinklers; get out the vegetable seeds for succession sowings. Pull weeds, and handpick pests. Diligence on all fronts will be rewarded, but I know it’s daunting—and that the view out the window right now can be paralyzing–though I do love the avian ruckus in all my twig dogwoods, whose fruit is attracting birds galore right now, and will soon be disappeared, every last bit. Oh, and clean out the freezer to make room for incoming.

If I push through, summer usually shapes up, and the tall annuals and perennials, ornamental grasses, the fresh white blooms of hydrangeas, and those heat-loving vegetables we’ve waited all year to taste again, have their day. I’m always glad I summoned the energy to plow forward through the July chores:

garden elsewhere? regional links

THE ORGANIC-GARDENING approach and the how-to tips I offer apply most anywhere–pruning a rose or sowing a tomato seed is similar, wherever the rose or tomato may grow. But the when is not the same. To adjust timing: My garden is in Zone 5B, in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA) area, where frost can persist well into May and return in October. You may need next month’s chores, or last month’s (the archive is here). For more Zone-specific advice, I’ve rounded up links to calendars and checklists from around the nation (and the U.K.). But read on first, because I’m betting there’s something here for you, wherever you may dig, weed, or prune.

weeding and watering

MAKE A PASS through each garden bed each week, since weeds are not just unsightly but steal moisture, nutrients and light. Top up mulch where needed (or maybe you need a layer or cardboard or newsprint first?). First: Learn to identify your opponents, and the tactics and timing for best control.

Some of my hit parade to help in that effort:

OBSERVE WHILE WEEDING: Make notes, to plan for fall reworking of problem spots–areas that seem to invite weeds to sow with abandon, like the driveway, or other gravel surfaces, or cracks between pavers. Again, decision time: To solarize (lay down plastic sheeting, and use summer heat and sun to cook the weeds to death)? Or to spray? I say no to chemical herbicides, so there are sheets of plastic here and there, and the scuffle hoe (a push-pull long-handled tool sometimes called a Dutch hoe) is getting a workout, too, especially in the driveway gravel.

GARDENS NEED AN INCH OF WATER a week. Check your rain gauge to see if the heavens provided it. Soak beds deeply in the root zone, but don’t spritz with a sprayer now and again like you’re washing the car. Containers, especially smallish ones in sun, need daily attention, and periodic feeding. Be alert!


IF YOU ARE IN JAPANESE BEETLE territory, handpick each morning and again late day. Drown in a container of water. We can’t eliminate them; we have to manage them. Consider a biological (non-toxic) control to further help reduce overwintering grub population with nematodes, or one of the other biologicals covered in this government bulletin for homeowners (pdf). Ken Druse and I chatted about various tactical approaches we’ve taken to them in this story and podcast.

WITH OTHER OBVIOUS pests like tomato hornworms, squash bugs, Colorado potato beetles or imported cabbage worms, I do the same: handpick early each morning, and destroy. And…