For The Answer
Saturday, July 10, 2004
By Calvin Finch, Conservation Director, SAWS, and Horticulturist
JULY IS AN IMPORTANT MONTH IN THE GARDEN
Timing is an important part of gardening in South Texas. Our weather is extreme at times, so there are limited windows of suitable weather for specific plants to perform at their best. July is an important month for activities that result in the autumn flush of bloom for roses, a bountiful supply of fall tomatoes, and a great show of mari-mums and even the spring crop of blackberries.
The first step in producing a good crop of fall tomatoes is to pull and compost the spring plants. They will live and may produce a fall crop but the production and quality does not match that of newly planted tomatoes. The spring plants are spent and serve as a reservoir of pests such as fungus, spider mites and nematodes.
Texas Extension Vegetable Specialist Dr. Jerry Parsons reports that Heat Wave may be on the market again this autumn. They are a proven heat-setting plant that will raise the odds that you will harvest a crop before the cold weather arrives. Also select from Celebrity, 444, Carnival Bingo and Jackpot. Plant the new tomatoes in the garden at the end of July. Use the time between then and now to till in 2 inches of compost, add 1 cup of lawn fertilizer per 50 sq. ft., repair the drip irrigation, and obtain the mulch you will use over the root system. Live oak leaves are my favorite mulch for the vegetable garden.
The roses do not look great right now. They are perking up, however, and will bloom this fall. Late July is normally the time to prepare the plants for the autumn flush of bloom. Because of the cool wet weather, do it now. Put on your gloves and wear a long-sleeved shirt to protect yourself from the thorns. Remove all dead and injured stems. Open up the middle by removing stems that are growing inwardly instead of outwardly. Excessive height can also be pruned back. Use your discretion but 36 inches tall is a good target.
When you complete the pruning, it is time to fertilize with slow release lawn fertilizer (1 cup per plant spread widely over the roots). Replenish the mulch and irrigate the plants when the soil dries under the mulch to 1 inch. Modern hybrid tea roses require a weekly spray program to do their best. Apply Funinex and orthene every week. Organic gardeners can try sulfur, neem oil and pyrethrin products.
Blackberries are a very productive fruit for South Texas. It is time to remove last year’s stems (floricanes) to make way for the new growth (primocanes) that will bear next year’s fruit. The primocanes are the shoots that are vigorously growing and have lush foliage. The floricanes have smaller leaves that are declining. Cut the floricanes off at the ground. When you cut out the old stems it is a good idea to prune the primocanes back to 36 inches. Prune them at 36 inches once per month for the rest of the year. Our most productive blackberry varieties are even thornier than roses. Gloves and long sleeves are required. If you are a “sissy” you could remove all the stems. The primocanes will grow back in time for next year’s crop.
Marigolds are one of our favorite flowers; unfortunately, they are also a favorite food source of spider mites. When we try to grow them in spring or summer, they are quickly infested. If you plant marigolds in the autumn beginning later this month, the timing is such that the plants benefit by warm but declining temperatures. Spider mite reproduction is directly related to temperature and, if everything works as planned, the blooms survive until cold weather arrives. Seek the large African or American hybrids. They are called “marimums” at some nurseries because they look like garden mums when planted in mass. Plant them 1.5 feet or less apart and they will form a solid mass of orange or yellow bloom.
When you visit the nursery to select your marigolds, the best choice is to find stocky plants that have not started to bloom yet. The show of bloom is most spectacular if the plants reach 12 to 14 inches tall before they start to bloom. If this growth is achieved in your garden there will be enough root system and foliage to support a full crown of bloom. Marigolds that begin to bloom on under-developed plants never produce as many large flowers as larger plants.