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MASTER GARDENERS: Hot tips for busy July gardening

July is the start of the peak harvest season for vegetable gardeners. The first fruits, vegetable and herbs are ready for use and flowers are ready for picking. Hopefully, the harvest just gets better from this point on. There's still time to sow seeds for cool season crops. Beets, short season carrots, kohlrabi, lettuce and other greens can still be planted for fall harvest.

June and early July rains in our northern area of Minnesota have eased the drought conditions we had at the start of the 2018 gardening season. However, the much warmer temperatures mean we still need to pay attention to the moisture needs of our gardens, trees and shrubs.

Newly planted trees and shrubs need 1-2 good waterings each week. A slow running hose under the branches of low growing shrubs or a sprinkler under taller plantings will do the trick. Established trees can suffer drought stress and benefit from watering during hot dry periods. Mulching under these trees helps retain water and keeps roots cooler.

Do you want your lawn to stay green all summer? Lawns need 1 to 1½ inches of water a week to maintain that green. Raising the mower height will shade the grass crown and roots and reduce the watering needs. Some let lawns go dormant during high temperatures. Established lawns can become dormant without permanent damage. Once dormant, they should not be watered unless continued watering is part of the plan. Fertilizer and herbicides can burn lawns during hot weather. Wait for the cooler weather to selectively spray for the weeds you want to get rid of.

Even with the rains, there is need to water containers since they dry out faster than plants in the ground. Some need watering once a day, some twice if the weather is hot and windy. Use a water soluble fertilizer every week to help keep the plants healthy and growing.

July is a good month to prune and shape both deciduous and evergreen shrubs and to refresh mulch. Besides looking nice and keeping weeds down, organic mulch improves the soil as it breaks down.

Flower borders will benefit from deadheading to prevent seed formation and encourage re-bloom. Stake tall plants such as delphinium and dahlia. If flower beds need mulch, it's not too late to do it. The biggest challenge for gardeners is keeping weeds from going to seed. If there isn't time to pull them, try snipping off the blooms before you mulch.

Check flower and vegetable plants for insect pests. Try to identify the pests you see and use appropriate methods for their removal. For example, aphids can be washed off plants with a strong stream of water. No need to use a spray on them.

In vegetable gardens pick produce such as beans, cucumbers and summer squash before they get too large. Pick broccoli well before it flowers. While tomatoes will ripen off the vine, they are at their best when they reach their full color while still on the plant. Vegetables benefit from mulch, too.

July is a busy month in the garden. Treat yourself! Cut some flowers for an indoor bouquet as a feast for the eyes while you feast on the fresh vegetables from your garden.

Call (218) 444-7916, the Master Gardener voicemail, for help with gardening questions or consult the U of MN Extension site, www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yardgarden/.

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