I always look forward to the first good tomato from my garden— generally around the first of July. More than likely, it will be an heirloom type because the ones I grow are noted for their terrific flavor. I think Black Krim is my favorite. If you did not buy any tomato plants this year, you may still find some in the garden center. Go ahead and plant them, and you can look forward to enjoying your own “best tomato” in early fall.
July and August are hot months, so I restrict most of my gardening time to the early morning or late afternoon. If it doesn’t rain, I water my containers almost every day. By now, the root systems of my annual potted plants have filled the pots and will need plenty of water to continue to grow and thrive. Too many of us water the foliage and not the soil. I always make sure to water until I see water running out the drainage hole, as well as standing on top.
For many of you, those beautiful spring annuals you planted have grown tired and would benefit from being replaced. This is a great opportunity to create new looks in your summer garden. Instead of planting more annuals, consider bringing in some tropicals. If you want bright yellows, reds, and greens that thrive in the sun, look for crotons. They are hearty and reasonably priced. Plus you can get them in most any size from 4-inch pots to 5-gallon containers. These plants are especially plentiful in the big hardware store garden centers.
Other tropicals to look for that do well in sun or shade include candy cane dracaenas, ribbon plants, and corn plants. I prefer the gallon-size version of those. Chinese evergreens and tropical ferns also love shade. Keep in mind that at the end of the growing season, the freezing temperatures will kill your tropicals unless you dig them up and move them indoors.
Limelight hydrangeas have recently become a very popular choice for many gardeners. Easy to grow in full sun with flowers as big as ice tea pitchers, these plants have light greenish-white blooms that are showstoppers this time of year. These Pee Gee type hydrangeas have numerous selections with lots of variations of pink, white, green, and red. I prefer to buy them in bloom so that I am certain to get the colors I want.
Limelight is a big hydrangea, so make sure to plan for its size. My son has several at his home that approach 6 feet in height and width each year. Their flower clusters can easily be a foot long and almost equally as wide. Since he has a modified builder landscape installation, his hydrangeas were originally planted in Birmingham red clay mixed with a little sand and topsoil. However, they have flourished and are sensational. If you like the look of this hydrangea but don’t want the massive size, there is a smaller limelight that has little flowers and does not grow as big.
To care for limelights this time of the year, water them before the plants start to wilt. In late fall, cut them back after they have shed their leaves and the blooms have turned brown. As soon as the plants start putting out their new growth in the spring, fertilize them with 15-0-15 at least monthly until the blooms are ready to open. In order to get the size blooms that you see in the stores, you must fertilize them. Depending on their size, use a half cup to a cup of granular 15-0-15 around the base of the plant, but make sure the fertilizer does not touch the plant.
The options for your summer garden are plentiful. Simply decide the colors you prefer and the amount of upkeep you are willing to put forth in the heat. Then sit back and enjoy the rewards of your efforts.
Floyd’s To-Do List: July/August
This time of the year, turf either looks great or suffers from lack of care. Not only do you need to deep-water your grass during dry periods, but you also need to cut it regularly. The blades you are cutting are the old grass, so this helps your turf continue to be healthy and look beautiful. In extremely dry periods, I cut my grass about every 10 days instead of weekly. And yes, I still bag the clippings of my zoysia turf.
Give your lawn a good fertilization if you haven’t already done so. Be sure to fertilize when a good rain is predicted so it will go into the soil and not burn the grass. I do not recommend fertilizing centipede at this time.
If you want another bloom on your crepe myrtles, cut the spent blooms right at the bloom base. This will allow new flower clusters to form and extend the bloom period of one of our favorite summer flowering trees. Generally, the second blooms are not as large as the first flush of flowers.
Ornamental peppers are showing up in garden centers this time of year, and they offer great spots of color in sunny locations. Remember that peppers like full sun and hot locations, and they do have a bit of drought tolerance. The ones you buy now are growing in pots, and they are likely to be root-bound. If they are not watered when the soil is dry to the touch, they will shed their leaves. Their fruits should give you color until a fall frost.
Now is the time to remove unwanted shoots from your shrubs. Instead of tip-pruning the sprout, trace the shoot to its origin and remove it at the point where it sprouted. This will reduce the amount of pruning a plant needs while also allowing it to keep its natural shape.
Pinching and watering are the keys to keeping annuals looking good in summer. Pinch off spent blossoms and shoots that are awkward. Petunias especially like a good pinch. And don’t underestimate their need for water. If you are growing these annuals in pots, the roots have probably filled the pot by now. This may cause the water to just run off the soil. One thing I have done to solve this issue is to stick a pencil or something similar in the root-bound pots in several places to help with the water uptake.
Every time your encore azaleas finish blooming, remove the spent flower heads and fertilize. Because of the heat, a light application of 15-0-15 will be fine after the summer bloom. By doing these simple tasks, you can be assured you will get three blooming periods out of these azaleas.
John Floyd has been gardening in the Birmingham area for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was editor-in-chief of Southern Living. For daily tips and more garden information, visit birminghamgardeningtoday.com.