July in a Desert Garden
July summer is in full swing. Temperatures can be anywhere from 105 to 120. We may be dry or have monsoonal humidity. Gardening tasks should be done in the early morning. This is the time to really begin planning anything you want to accomplish in the fall.
Topics covered: Planting, Pruning, Flowering, Vegetables, Irrigation, Pests, Weeds, and Fertilizer
In the desert, we do major pruning in October so you shouldn't be doing any major pruning this month. You always want to be looking at your plants though and only trimming problem areas. Is there a branch in your pathway or do you have a dead branch that needs to be taken out? This keeps you from having to do as much later and corrects issues before they become major problems. If you are having to regularly prune your plants you should take a look at why. Trees should not need to be pruned yearly. Shrubs left in their natural shape only need an occasional snip here or there. Are you watering too much? Is the plant in the wrong place? And most importantly, you want to always check for nesting animals before you prune!
Native desert plants are still in their full glory this month. Desert Marigold, Desert Milkweed, Evening Primrose, Globemallow, Datura, Indianblanket, White Sage, Sweetbush plus many others are all in full bloom
You want to continue to deadhead some flowers to promote a prolonged bloom. I leave the majority of my spent blooms as seeds for wildlife.
Collect seeds for next year as soon as the seedpod begins to turn brown or dry out. Store in a paper bag and allow to dry out for a week or two in a dry shady spot. If you want a more natural landscape, allow the seeds to drop naturally.
You may continue planting beans, basil, Armenian cucumbers, tomatillos, sweet potatoes, and squash.
In the last two weeks of July, you can plant seeds for corn. Pumpkins and watermelons are possible then but are very picky about the weather. If it is too hot and we do not get any monsoonal rain or humidity they won't work.
Earlier planted squash should still be producing profusely. Watch for squash beetles. Mix a spray bottle with water, biodegradable soap, and oil to control squash bugs. I rotate between neem and a combination of thyme, rosemary clove, and peppermint oil.
biodegradable soap: 1/4 teaspoon or 3 drops
oil:1/2 - 1 ounce depending on the severity of your infestation.
Shake well, should be very sudsy. Use immediately. Spray leaves including the undersides, eggs, nymphs, and bugs. Repeat every 7-10 days. Make sure as with all sprays to do this in the evening when all the beneficials like butterflies and bees have gone to sleep. You can also hand pick off in the morning or evening.
Pests, Weeds, and Fertilizer
PESTS: prevention is the best method for a pest-free garden.
Drip irrigation, watering the plants from below rather than spraying the leaves helps prevent disease keeping the plant healthy. Make sure to water deeply but infrequently. Allow your native plants to dry out between waterings. Waterlogged roots equal unhealthy plants. Healthy plants equal fewer pests!
WEEDS: don't put off weeding! Regular maintenance prevents spread.
The heat and longer days promote growth. It's important to do this early morning or late evening. Not just for your health but because disturbing the soil releases moisture that the plants are relying on.
Spurge weed, (Euphorbia maculata) is popping up now that the weather is warm. Once you have an infestation of this it is difficult to get rid of it. Hand pulling, making sure to remove the tap root, and the use of thick mulch to starve the seedlings of light are the most effective removal methods in my experience. Use gloves when handling spurge. The milky sap can irritate some people.
FERTILIZE: Fertilizing in the summer is not recommended.
Review your irrigation system.
Increase water to accommodate warmer temperatures. Water deeply but infrequently to prevent plants from becoming overgrown, floppy, or subject to rot. Remember, desert natives, want to have deep waterings and then dry out in between.
Don't worry if your plants wilt in the hottest part of the day. This is their defense mechanism to conserve moisture. They will perk back up by morning after the sun goes down and they have been watered. Do NOT spray them with overhead water during the day! This can damage them. The water droplets reflect the sun's rays burning the leaves. It also causes the plant's stomata to open resulting in moisture loss.
If you leave for the summer, make sure to check your irrigation system before you go for leaks, clogged emitters, etc.
Refresh the water basins and mulch around your trees and plants before the summer heat.
Monitor irrigation systems closely. Failure this time of year can be catastrophic without quick intervention.
Our planting season begins in September/October and ends in about March or April. Planting in the fall our plants have lots of time to establish themselves before the heat of summer hits. Up to 80% of the yearly root growth occurs in the fall when the days are shorter and the temperatures are cooler. The later in the year we plant the more water we need to use to establish them and the more care they need. Plants need at least 6-8 weeks to reestablish their roots before the extreme heat of summer hits.