You know it's early July when you hear the crickets at dusk, see the fireflies blinking in the darkness or eat your first homegrown tomato sandwich of the year. These are some of the wonderful sounds, sights and tastes of living in the South that are soothing to our senses after a warm summer day.
This is also the time when I usually make a checklist of some of the gardening "to do's" for this time of year. If I can, I try to tackle these things in the early morning or evening to avoid the hotter periods of the day.
Do a visual overall evaluation of the plants in the yard, which include annuals, perennials, ornamentals, shrubs and lawns. This time of year is a good time to look at the overall appearance of your landscape.
Do the shrubs and trees provide an attractive background to your flowering plants? Are there gaps where some plants could fill the void? Make notes on which plants still look good in the heat of the summer months.
Generally this is not a good time to add new plants to your garden. The soil and air temperatures are not ideal for new root growth and one will have to water more frequently to keep the plant well-established. Make some plant selections to add to your landscape and plant them in the fall. If you must plant now, plant in your shady areas and water and mulch immediately after planting.
Hot weather seems to bring out pests like aphids and spider mites. They are a nuisance on vegetables, flowering plants and shrubs. Use insecticidal soaps to control if possible. Sometimes even a blast of cold water from a hose will wash them away, but you will have to be diligent if you go that route.
Use pesticides sparingly if you must, but remember that harmless and beneficial insects perish along with them. Beneficial insects include ladybugs, garden spiders, paper wasps and ground beetles. Most of these are great aphid and caterpillar eaters.
Fungus problems can be a problem this time of year, so check the leaves of your plants. Powdery mildew can affect plants such as roses, crape myrtles and most shrubs. Collect and destroy infected leaves as soon as they fall or prune them off the plant. You can spray fungicides containing sulfur, lime or copper. The big box stores carry different products for fungus disease control.
A black fungus called sooty mold can also affect plant foliage. This fungus occurs when insects such as aphids and scale secrete a substance called honeydew and the mold grows on top of the honeydew. This can also be washed off or treated with an insecticidal soap.
Some pruning and deadheading of old blooms can be done now. You can still prune spring flowering shrubs such as azaleas, gardenias, forsythia, virburnum, hydrangeas (except fall blooming) and rhododendron through July. Wait until winter to prune shrubs that bloom on new wood such as crape myrtle, spirea and butterfly bush.
Deadheading can be done now on repeat blooming perennials such as black-eyed Susan, echinacea coneflower, rudbeckia's, salvia and verbena. This will encourage a new flush of growth through the later summer months.
Cut off dead blooms from yarrow and the existing flowers will look much more attractive. You can shear off the tops of spent yellow coreopsis for a second round of blooms to enjoy through the warm season.
Make sure all of your plants are getting adequate moisture, but don't overwater. Sometimes we kill our plants with too much water. Water an inch deep a week on most lawns, vegetable gardens and ornamental plants and they will do fine.
Last, you can fertilize your vegetables and annuals at four-to-six-week intervals. Also Bermuda grass can be fertilized now. Do not fertilize fescue or zoysia lawns at this time. Perennials do not need fertilizer as well because the hot weather makes them more susceptible to pest and disease and you do not want new growth right now.
Good gardening practices enhance your home in many ways. It creates curb appeal or provides a restful retreat from our hectic world.
Take time to care for it and eat those great local homegrown tomato sandwiches on the Fourth of July.
Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.