July is the month to put your mettle to the petal and commit to caring for your blooming baskets and container gardens. You must water more often when the weather warms up and roots fill the soil and demand more to eat and drink. Water until you see drainage seeping from the hole at the bottom of the pot. Fertilize at least once every two weeks to keep petunia and fuchsia baskets in full bloom. July is also a good time to pinch back petunias by about one third for bushier plants. Use your pruning crumbs as cut flowers: Petunias can be surprisingly fragrant and long lasting in a vase.
Q. Is it too late to plant vegetables? I see some nurseries have tomato plants left, but I also want to grow some beans and peas from seed. T.B., Enumclaw
A. There is still time this summer for a harvest of beans, beans, broccoli, spinach and beets this fall if you plant seeds now. But don’t give peas a chance. Peas are a cool season crop and will not do well when planted this late in the season. Your pea seeds may sprout, but the warm nights mean they will suffer from blights and other fungus.
Tomato plants will do great if you find them growing in containers and transplant them either into your soil or a larger pot and place them in the hottest spot on your property. Up against a south or west facing wall and protected from the rain is best for tomato growing in Western Washington.
Bush beans will give a quicker harvest than pole beans, and you won’t need to provide tall supports, but the taller bean varieties provide more beans to harvest in less space. Pole beans keep producing as long as you keep the new beans picked. Starts of squash, pepper and eggplants will also do well when planted into the garden this month.
Q. I want to add summer color. I see dahlias for sale at the garden center, but they are shorter than the dahlias I remember my mother growing. In her garden the dahlias would return year after year and get six feet tall. I would prefer these dwarf dahlias but want plants that will return each summer. R.P., Tacoma
A. The darling dwarf dahlias you see now at the nurseries will bloom all summer and into the fall on compact plants, but most of the short dahlias are annuals, which means they only flower one year and must be replaced annually.
The tall dahlias that grow from a bulb-like root are called tuberous dahlias, and this is the type that may overwinter in well-drained soil or you can dig and store the roots in the fall and replant each spring. A new type of dahlia is now available that is a compact tuberous dahlia that does not need staking but will overwinter like their taller cousins.
All dahlias will continue to bloom if you keep picking the flowers, so pick out blooming plants now and you’ll still have months of color to enjoy. Dahlias need at a least a half a day of sun. Loosen the soil all around the root zone, adding some slow-release plant food and compost into the planting area. Now the good news. Compared to most summer blooming plants, dahlias do well with less water and less fertilizer, making them a great choice for busy gardeners. Just keep picking those blooms.
Q. My lawn is turning brown. How much water and how much fertilizer does my lawn need to stay green? I am considering putting in a sprinkler system. T., Olympia
A. This is a difficult question. It is natural for grasses to go brown or dormant in the summer and how much to water depends on your soil, sun and type of lawn seed you have planted.
The general rule of green thumb is one inch of water per week. Instead of a sprinkler system, it is more practical in our region to set an oscillating sprinkler onto your lawn and run it once or twice a week until an empty tuna can or rain gauge shows that the sprinkler has delivered one inch of water. The corners that your sprinkler cannot reach can be replaced with drought resistant groundcovers, gravel or shrubs. Aerating the lawn in the spring, adding organic matter and reseeding with a new drought resistant grass seed next spring or this fall are all ways to keep your lawn green without wasting water.
When it comes to fertilizer, the typical lawn needs ½ to 1 pound of actual nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet. The best time to fertilize lawns in Western Washington is in the spring or fall. One more tip. Lawns allowed to grow three inches tall and then cut down to two inches will stay green longer and shade out many sun-seeking weeds.
Use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the lawn to return nitrogen to the soil. Sprinkler systems that come on every day will keep a lawn green, but they are a huge waste of water as frequent watering keeps the grass roots near the surface of the soil. Watering a lawn too often will also encourage fungal infections.