When you talk about gardening in Texas, July doesn’t spring first to mind. This month is more about just surviving. We forget there are creative things we can do. Let’s take a look at the big picture — all the prime opportunities July presents to North Texas gardeners. Here are things you’ll want to check off your list.
▪ Crape myrtles while they’re in full bloom in area nurseries. Buy in bloom so you can get the exact shades that you want. Check the plants’ labels carefully to be sure their mature sizes will fit the spaces you have available.
▪ Hot weather annual color, including lantanas, fanflowers, pentas, angelonias, moss rose, hybrid purslane, copper plants, Gold Star esperanza, purple fountaingrass and firebush.
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▪ Tomatoes and pumpkins early in the month to give them ample time to grow and mature before frost. In both cases, stick with small to mid-sized varieties. Large tomatoes won’t set fruit well in fall’s cooler weather. Large pumpkins will take too long to mature.
▪ New lawns from sod or seed. No matter how you’re starting your new grass, rototill to a depth of 2 to 3 inches and rake to a smooth planting bed. Water for short intervals in morning and evening for the first couple of weeks to prevent new grass from drying out.
▪ Shrubs to restore natural growth form by removing long, erratic branches.
▪ Perennials to remove spent flower stalks and seed heads. Pinch growing tips out of mums, Mexican bush sage and fall asters one last time early in the month to keep the plants more compact.
▪ Continue mowing at the same height you have used all spring and early summer. Raising the mower blade does not improve drought tolerance. In fact, tall grass quickly becomes weak grass. Weeds will move in quite freely.
▪ Turf with all-nitrogen food with half or more of that nitrogen in slow-release form (either coated or encapsulated). Do not feed St. Augustine until fall if gray leaf spot has been a known problem.
▪ Annual color beds to keep plants growing actively. Keep granules off plants’ leaves, and water fertilizer into the soil immediately after application.
▪ Patio pots and hanging baskets every time that you water them. Use a water-soluble plant food. Mix it in a concentrated solution, then dilute it by putting a siphoning proportioner into a bucket of the mix. Every third or fourth time that you water, flush extra water through the mix so that excesses of mineral salts won’t accumulate.
▪ Iron chlorosis will appear as yellowed leaves with dark green veins most prominently at tips of branches. Apply an iron product in tandem with a sulfur soil acidifier to help keep the iron in a soluble form.
Be on the lookout for…
▪ Chinch bugs in St. Augustine. 2016 was a terrible year for them, so populations may be poised for another outbreak. They appear in the sunniest, hottest areas of your lawn. Grass appears dry but does not respond to irrigation. Watch for them anytime after mid-July, and check the surface of the soil for BB-sized black insects with irregular white diamonds on their backs. Treat with a labeled insecticide.
▪ Lace bugs. They turn the leaves of lantanas, pyracanthas, boxwoods, azaleas, sycamores, American elms, bur oaks, Boston ivy and other landscape plants speckled tan. You’ll seldom see the adult insects, but if you turn the leaves over you’ll see black waxy specks (excrement) on the backs. You can spray with a contact insecticide or use a systemic product, although pale leaves will not regain their dark green appearance.
▪ Leafrollers. They may tie the leaves of sweetgums, redbuds, vinca (trailing periwinkle) ground cover and cannas together, turning them brown in the process. Apply a systemic insecticide, preferably earlier in the season next year.
▪ Gray leaf spot. It appears in St. Augustine in irregular washes across the lawn, both in sun and shade. On close inspection you’ll see grayish-brown lesions on the blades of the grass and occasionally on the runners, again about the size of BBs. Apply a labeled turf fungicide, but do not apply nitrogen, as it accelerates the disease.
▪ Rose rosette virus has ruined most rose plantings in the Metroplex over the past five or six years. Affected plants have stunted, clubby stems with multitudes of vicious thorns. Flower buds fail to open properly, turning brown and crisp. There is no prevention or cure for this virus. Infected plants must be dug, put in black plastic trash bags and sent to the landfill. Wait until research finding resistance to the virus is announced, hopefully before too many years. This is a sad and serious disease that has singled out the DFW area for its worst epidemic.