Northwest

What to do in your garden in July
JIM McCAUSLAND

PLANTING AND HARVEST

Harvest crops. To encourage production, pick crops as they ripen, especially everbearing strawberries and vegetables such as beans and indeterminate tomatoes (those that keep growing and bearing all season).

Plant annual flowers. If you set out flowers from nursery packs early this month, they'll bloom until frost, often putting on a better late-summer show than spring-planted annuals.

Set out vegetables. Sunset climate zones 4-7, 17: Sow seeds of beets, broccoli, bush beans, carrots, chard, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, radishes, scallions, spinach, and turnips for fall harvest. Set out a late crop of seed potatoes by July 4.

Start lawns in Alaska. Zones A2, A3: Lay sod or sow seed for new lawns or repair old ones this month. In sunny areas, go with Kentucky bluegrass; use red fescue in the shade.

MAINTENANCE

Care for fuchsias. Snip or pick off faded blossoms to keep blooms coming, but expect fewer flowers during hot weather. Apply a complete liquid plant fertilizer monthly for plants in the ground, every two weeks for potted fuchsias.

Consider a soil test. Your permanent plants should be growing strong this month. But if they're getting enough water and still aren't doing well, a lab test can help you determine if your soil is causing the problem. Washington State University posts a list of Northwest soil-testing labs on its website www.cru.cahe.wsu.edu/cepublications/eb1578e/eb1578e.pdf. After you send a soil sample to the lab and pay a fee, you'll get a report detailing its chemistry.

Guard against wildfire. Create a buffer zone between your house and adjacent wildland by thinning dense shrubbery and closely spaced trees on your property. Or replace them with low-growing groundcovers, such as beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) or Japanese spurge, or with hardscape. Remember that fire crews devote their efforts to saving the most defensible properties. For more safety tips, go to www.sunset.com and search for "wildfire," then click "Wildfire Lessons."

Monitor mulch. Spreading organic mulch around plants conserves soil moisture and keeps roots cool. But dry mulch can also soak up water from rain or sprinklers before it ever reaches plant roots.

If this is happening in your garden, try one of these techniques: Install drip emitters or lay soaker hoses under the mulch to deliver water directly to the soil (mulch hides the black tubing). Or pull the mulch back from the soil; this is particularly effective if you've built a watering basin around plants. Another option is gravel mulch; water percolates right through it, yet it insulates the soil from the sun's hot, drying rays.

Water wisely. Irrigate annuals, lawns, perennials, and shrubs early in the morning. This not only reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation, it allows plants to dry off before mildew and other diseases take hold.