California Gardener's July Checklist

This time of year that I wake up considering watering — sometimes, though, about the Giants game the night before, or Mad Men if it’s Monday. True, most of California has had hardly any rain since last Christmas, but rather than obsessing about what a backyard most desperately desires in midsummer (irrigation, crabgrass remedies, security against tomato-stealing varmints), wouldn’t it be much better to focus on the beautiful items during what may be the most abundant and joyous time of year?

Many California native plants are on summer hiatus, by nature dormant for the long, dry summer, but let’s give a distinctive shout-out to heat-loving plants from all around the world that revel in the California summer: jacarandas, gardenias, summer fruit trees (for example, apricots) and many more delights.

Grow a jacaranda at least once. In case you have any doubts about the beauty of the jacaranda tree, then simply look for it in Google Images. You’ll see magnificent trees in magnificent bloom in virtually every warm portion of the world — Australia, India, South Africa, Los Angeles and Brazil (the tree’s native home), as an example.

Of course, the tree has its haters, including a number of those who have developed it and swept up underneath it — the constantly falling leaves, branches, blossoms, seedpods and every conceivable kind of tree litter. Everything depends on your tolerance of chaos and disease.

My proposal: if you reside in a gentle coastal portion of California, attempt jacaranda at least once — as a yard tree, as a street tree, even in the background, even as a patio tree if you have a big broom. It develops quickly and blossoms when young — in other words, if you have made a mistake, then you are going to understand it quickly.

Botanical name: Jacaranda mimosifolia
USDA zones: 10 to 11
Water requirement: moderate to medium; gets along with minimal water once established
moderate requirement: Entire sun
Mature size: 25 to 40 feet tall and 25 to 35 feet wide
Growing tips: Make sure you have room for a big tree. Plant it where falling blossoms, leaves and seedpods will not create a messy issue. In marginal climates don’t make jacaranda a centerpiece of the landscape — freeze can ruin it back to the floor. Water it to the first couple of years, then decrease irrigation. Prune it in winter to control the form and size.

If you have space for a single fruit tree. Whom I grew up, apricots appeared almost like annoying weeds — an orchard staple, simple to develop, so productive that individuals with trees in their own gardens didn’t know exactly what to do with of the fruit. Little did I know exactly how dicey it is to develop an apricot tree if you’re not in exactly the correct climate — and exactly what a highlight of summer their ripe fruit (perfectly timed for Fourth of July) can be.

The lesson: In case you want to develop a fruit tree, then make certain it’s right for your climate. And choose one that is going to provide you something unique. For example, would you wish to develop a peach tree (which requires careful pruning and spraying) when you can buy these fantastic peaches at farmer’s markets? Think twice, also, about cherry trees — you are going to have to fight birds off for ripe fruit.

More easygoing choices include old-fashioned plums such as Santa Rosa and figs (successful but amazingly expensive at niches). If you reside in warm coastal climates, especially in Southern Calfiornia, choose from a whole other group of tropical fruit trees, such as cherry, guavas and sapote. Check with local nurseries on proper varieties, and make sure you study up.

Common name: Apricot
Botanical name: Prunus armeniaca, many varieties
USDA zones: 5 to 9; the trees are rather hardy but bear fruit well only in climates without spring frosts. Mainly that means California’s coastal valleys.
Water requirement: Moderate; the soil has to be moist while the fruit is developing
Light requirement: Full sun
Mature size: 15 to 20 feet tall and broad
Growing tips: Plant bare-root trees in winter, grow plants in containers almost any season. Prune in summer after harvest. As with the majority of fruit trees, bone up on pruning, fertilizing and pest control.

The New York Botanical Garden

Meet the gardenia challenge. Should you buy one pristine white, lusciously fragrant bloom, all the travails of growing a gardenia will seem worthwhile.

Remember a couple of things from the start. Opt for a robust nursery plant, together with bushy growth and green leaves — a few buds or blossoms are a bonus. Gardenias come from warm, humid Southeast Asia; they function much better in the southern countries but do fine in California should you compensate for our drier air and more alkaline soils.

They desire a spot that’s sheltered from the hottest sun but can also be plenty warm. Try out a single plant near a partially shaded entry, where you can smell the perfume. Growing one in a container will provide you an opportunity to try various locations.

Botanical name: Gardenia jasminoides. Popular types include ‘August Beauty’ and ‘Mystery’.
USDA zones: 8 to 11
Water requirement: Moderate or more, as long as the soil drainage is perfect
Light requirement: Entire sun in cooler climates; semi sunlight in warm climates
Mature size: 3 to 6 feet tall and 3- to 4 feet broad; compact types are somewhat smaller
Growing tips: The soil has to be just right: rapid draining but with sufficient organic matter to hold lots of moisture — combine equal parts of ground bark or peat moss with native soil at planting time. Or plant in a container using a commercial soil mix. Never let the soil dry out, but don’t overwater! Feed monthly during growing season with acid fertilizer. Watch for aphids and scale insects. Those are the main warnings, but there are others.

Inhale the sweet smells of summer. Along with gardenias, there are other strategies to perfume a summer backyard. More or less all of them are less demanding.

Among your choices are annual flowers like nicotiana and heliotrope. Burmese honeysuckle is a wild tender blossom. Banana shrub (Magnolia or Michelia doltsopa) is an evergreen shrub with an intriguing fragrance like a banana. Then there is night jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum), a nondescript shrub with unnoticeable little flowers that scent the nighttime summer air — also potently for many people.

Most versatile and easiest to grow of all of the scent makers is the old reliable star jasmine, revealed here, one of California’s most widely used evergreen plants for centuries. Grow it as a blossom, as a ground cover, in a pot — where you want all-year good looks and summer perfume.

Common name: Star jasmine
Botanical name: Trachelospermum jasminoides
USDA zones: 8 to 11
water requirement: Moderate — it seems better and has a lusher, darker colour with regular watering
Light requirement: Full sun or semi shade (especially in warm climates)
Mature size: 2 feet tall and 10 feet wide as a ground cover; 20 feet tall or more when trained as a blossom
Growing tips: Pruning can control the size; also much pruning cuts on blooming

Lend a paw from the backyard. Fuzzy blossoms on long stems create kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos) striking in just about any scenario — in a group or alone. It is especially convenient in summer. Purchase a blooming plant, put it in a pot and it’ll bloom for weeks — or, more accurately, the drying flowers hang on and look great. The hybrids currently available come in a range of bright colours: yellow (try it in a purple pot), red, orange, green and more. The plants are continuing and will return year after year in most California gardens.

Botanical name: Anigozanthos hybrids
USDA zones: 10 to 11
Water requirement: Moderate
Light requirement: Full sun
Mature size: Leaf clumps 1 to 3 feet tall and wide; blossom stems 2 feet long and more
Growing tips: For a container plant, use a lightweight soil mix, with lots of sand. Cut off drying blossoms to encourage more, or leave them on in the event that you like their appearance.

Try a native tree as a rugged problem-solver. Catalina ironwood is an evergreen tree to your toughest places. Plant one or more in the narrowest strips along a driveway or make a grove on a dry hillside. The foliage is ferny and the sole real delicate thing about the tree. White flowers in spring and summer come in clusters up to a foot or more over. The most handsome feature is the reddish brown trunks using peely, shaggy bark — a look of antiquity.

Botanical name: Lyonothamnus floribundus asplenifolius
USDA zones: 9 to 11, essentially a California-only tree
Water requirement: moderate to medium; gets along with minimal water once established
moderate requirement: Full sun
Mature size: 20 to 35 feet tall and 15 feet broad
Growing tips: make sure that the drainage is perfect. Cut off dry blossoms in the event that you can reach them. Prune in winter to form plants.

What Else to Do in July in Your California Garden

Continue planting summer blossoms. Along with zinnias (shown here), other heat-loving annual blossoms set out today can bloom into early or even late fall: ageratum, bedding begonias, celosia, dahlia, marigold, petunia, portulaca, salvia and vinca rosea among others.

Plant for late harvest. In much of California, you can still plant summer vegetables and expect crops in late summer and early fall: beans, beets, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes. It is ideal to choose types with short growing seasons.

Do your own tomatoes. In midseason mainly you will have to control uncontrolled growth by tying, staking and trellising. Try to strike a balance between watering too far (which hurts fruit quality) and too little (the crops wilt). Watch for insects, like whiteflies; control with organics that will not ruin your crop. Look out for hornworms, gross and oversized they virtually can munch a tomato plant to the floor before your eyes. Unless you are too squeamish, pick off hornworms (typically there aren’t many) and eliminate them.

guide to growing tomatoes
Prevent and control fleas. Avoid plants that are vulnerable to hot-weather pests in your town. Petunias and geraniums are an example: In certain places they nearly always endure attacks by budworms, which hollow out blossom buds and leave telltale black droppings underneath.

You will find organic controls, but it’s often wiser to attempt different pest-free plants; find out exactly what a nursery implies for your local conditions.

Save water. Before turning on the sprinklers, make sure the soil is actually dry. Evaluation for moisture by probing with a hand trowel into the top few inches of soil at least.

Mulch as far as you can. To save water and cut down on weeds among flowers, vegetables, shrubs and trees, spread a 2- or 3-inch coating of ground bark, compost or other organic matter; gravel and stones are also effective mulches. How to pick a mulch

Maintenance for your yard. Make sure that the grass is getting sufficient water. Examine blades for signs of wilting and drying out. Test the soil by copying it with a screwdriver. During summer set your lawn mower to cut higher: two to three inches to bluegrass and other cool-season types; about an inch to Bermuda grass.

Search for bargain tropicals. Nurseries can offer sales on fast-growing tropical plants which might not be winter hardy in your climate, for example bougainvillea, hibiscus and palms.

Prune and trim lightly. Encourage a milder and more bloom from annuals and perennials by cutting off faded flowers — notably on marigolds, dahlias and zinnias. Pinch back marguerites and chrysanthemums for bushier growth and more flowers.

More: How To Grow Your Own Sweet Summer Compounds

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