July ushers in warm summer days for working in the Los Angeles garden. In the hot inland areas, gardening should be kept to early morning and later evening hours when the sun is less damaging and the heat is not so intense. Evenings in all parts of Los Angeles County tend to tend to offer comfortable temperatures so they are perfect times to entertain, take a late day swim in your pool, enjoy watching pond life, let the children and pets play outdoors or enjoy a barbecue with friends or family. July is a month to enjoy your garden as much as to work in it!
In hot areas, planting is best done in the evening, giving the new arrivals time to settle in overnight before the heat of the summer sun stresses them. On the coast, weather stays cool, the sun is less fierce and planting can take place at any time of day. Plants set out in hot sun will appreciate extra water and some shade – even if you just set up some temporary shade cloth. Cacti and succulents are an exception. Cacti are best planted dry so the roots will be encouraged to spread out in search of moisture. Cacti and succulents store water in specially adapted stems and leaves and, once established, can tolerate either a drought-tolerant garden or a fair amount of water so long as the soil drains quickly.
With school out, water can become a helpful diversion for children. If you have a swimming pool or water feature, this is the time of year to use and enjoy it. The sound of water from a water garden is not only soothing, but it creates a psychological feel of cooling.
For lawns in clay, sand or decomposed granite soils, try this sprinkler schedule to get the most out of your water: Water each station approximately 5 minutes at about 4 a.m, wait for about an hour and repeat at about 5 a.m. (depending on how many stations you have). Then repeat this at 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. This way you may be able to reduce your watering days to only three per week. You should find your water consumption lower and your plants growing better. If you have hard ground or a hill and water washes off after 5 minutes, you may have to reduce the time and maybe even add an extra cycle with the shorter watering durations. By irrigating in short spurts, the idea is to make sure all the water sinks into the ground fully and doesn’t run off, wasted. Some people have good luck watering in the evening. Water has a whole night to sink in. The down side is that wet and dark can encourage fungus growth. If you water early enough in the evening that there is no water standing on leaves by nightfall, you are more likely to avoid the problem.
Vegetables and fruit should be cropping well. Patrol your vegetable garden daily and crop anything that is ready before it overgrows and drains the mother plant of all its energy. Regular patrols will also alert you to insect or animal invasions so you can take action before the problem escalates. You can still seed root crops like beets, radish and carrots in July for successive crops. But next month you can start with some early autumn planting from seed.
If you have a compost heap, keep it moist and turned. Check the very bottom where there might be some rich, rotted compost ready for use. Mulch is always good to add at any time of year. It’s even better in the summer since it will help protect vulnerable roots from over-heating and will help seal in moisture from irrigation. Using compost for mulch is a perfect choice for Los Angeles gardens since our soil is lean and lacks organic material. You will get the benefits of the top layer of protection now and the enriched soil later as your compost mixes with the soil beneath.
If you live in an open area of Los Angeles County, keep up with outdoor cleaning just in case a wildfire passes through early. It was a very dry winter and debris mixed with desiccated plant life will burn readily. Don’t forget to clear out rain gutters, wood piles and collected piles of pine needles or dead leaves. These will offer dangerous spots for airborne cinders to ignite.
If you’ve done your spring work thoroughly, there should be relatively little gardening work to do in July. So relax and kick back in your summer garden. You deserve some rewards for all your hard work!