VIU Milner Gardens and Woodland

July Garden Tasks

by Vancouver Island Master Gardeners Association

The Dog Days begin on the third, and already Sirius is growling! As our climate heats up we are learning new climate terms, different lifestyle rhythms and new ways to love our gardens in summer. Luckily, we can borrow some proven techniques from our desert neighbours in the Okanagan.

First, Review the Water-wise Schedule

The June article has a list of water-wise tips. Here are a few more.

1. Water just before sunset.

2. Give your conifer hedge a quick shower when you water.

3. Most of us have extra planters or large containers or storage totes. You can help your container plants stay cooler by using the large ones to create an insulated area while making emergency self-watering planters that conserve water.

  • Take the big planter/tote to an area that gets at least some shade if possible.
  • Put a few rocks in the bottom of the large planter/tote.
  • Place the smaller planter/pot into it, making sure the smaller pot is below the lip, and has a few inches of room all around the sides.
  • Balance the smaller container on the rocks so they don’t touch the bottom of the larger one.
  • Add a few inches of water, just to the bottom of the smaller pot, or just over its own watering tray if one is attached, so it fills the watering tray. Do not over-fill: you’ll only drown the plant.
  • Check levels each morning (chop sticks for small ones or garden stakes for larger make good dip-sticks), and add fresh water.

Maintenance & Planting

1. If cool-season perennials, like pansies, dianthus, and campanula are still blooming, deadhead the lot and let them go dormant. It will relieve heat their stress.

2. Here’s a tip I learned from a commercial strawberry grower:

Trim all greenery of the June-bearing strawberries and cut off all but one runner (it will set its crown and give you a new plant for next year). Chop the greenery and as mulch around the plants.

3. For winter vegetable gardeners in this too-early hot season:

  • Pot up early seeded winter veggies, and keep them in the shade.
  • Plant the rest of the winter crop in containers and keep them in the shade. You can put the leeks into their trenches later this month.
  • If the green peas and pole beans are growing too fast, don’t waste water on them. Let them mature for an early harvest of dry soup legumes. Chop down the plants and use as mulch. Plant another crop in August for green beans and fresh peas. 
  • Harvest all the garlic scapes. It increases the bulb harvest, they taste great when sauteed, and the plant will be less stressed trying to produce flowers.

OMG, the Heat!

A heat day is defined as any 24-hour period experiences 30° degrees C (86° F) or above. According to Canadian meteorologists they will now be a reliably seasonal occurrence at sea-level in all Island areas.  The salient point for gardeners is plants begin to experience physiological damage and begin to shut down all functioning, especially fruiting. Harvest loss, and pollination problems occur when this threshold is reached. When it happens by 11 AM. things can get, literally, deadly. What to expect:

1. Plants like beans, cucumbers, melons, peppers, pumpkins, squash, and tomatoes drop blossoms. Tomatillos and ground cherries drop blossoms and fruit and often do not set it again.

2. Cole crops like broccoli and cauliflower will bolt.

3. All plants will lose leaves from sun-scald, which shows as white circular patches.

4. Many shrubs deliberately drop leaves to preserve moisture for their roots.

5. Conifers will “flag,” that is, remove moisture from the ends of branches. Look for a pattern of dead/brown  on the outer foot of branches all over the tree. Most recover.

Here are some tips:

1.   Put up shade cloths and sun sails, especially against the afternoon sun. That old landscaping fabric finally has use. An old sheet draped over a pergola or even a sail of doubled-over bird netting slung on stakes will work. Just leave a few feet underneath for circulation and bird traffic.

2.    Water the pollinators. A bird bath, even a saucer, in the shade helps, but insects don’t survive easily with wet feet. Float some clean wine corks, or put in stones whose flattish tops stick up above the surface. Leave a small child’s pool with a few inches of water for birds and wild critters – and bats at night -- to bathe and drink.

3   Hummingbirds also need water. Place a saucer or ramekin in the crux of a tree branch next to the syrup well. Also, change the well daily on heat days; the syrup ferments and will make them very sick.

4. Hand pollinate squash early in the morning from freshly opened blossoms before heat kills the pollen.

And finally …

Take an afternoon siesta in the shade, keeping cool with a foot bath of ice cubes and leaning against a wet beach towel slung over the back of your canvas deck chair. Then stay up to watch the waning moon, listen to summer’s magnificent night birdsong. Revel in the perfumes while the temperatures cool enough for a comfortable sleep.