For the GIY gardener, July is largely a month for maintenance and monitoring. Many crops are flowering and setting fruit at this time, although you might already be harvesting some goodies such as courgettes and broad beans. Pick courgettes while they are smallish and young rather than allowing them to become very large; this will encourage more fruiting. Salad and early potatoes might well be ready too – once the plant has flowered, gently scrape soil away to check the size of the vegetables. You can harvest garlic when the tops bend over and begin to yellow.
The most important jobs include feeding, watering and supporting fruiting plants. This is also the time for vigilance – keep an eye out for aphids, potato and tomato blight, protect fruiting trees and bushes from opportunistic birds with a covering of netting or fleece, and do the same for brassicas to prevent the cabbage white butterfly laying its eggs on the leaves. Check the leaves of gooseberry bushes for sawfly larvae, which can completely strip the foliage in a matter of days. Jet them off with water or pick them off by hand. Make sure to keep weeds to a minimum too.
Prune your plum, apricot, peach and cherry trees now. Pruning these species in the summer reduces the risk of silver leaf disease. If you’ve trained your apples and pears as cordons, fans or espaliers, give them their summer prune now to maintain a good shape. Prune the fruited stems of blackcurrant bushes after harvesting.
Check that any climbers are tied in and supported, and limit upwards growth to encourage improved production of crops. You can train rambling crops such as cucumber and squash to grow vertically too, which saves on space. It’s best to cut the main stems of runner and French beans once they have reached the top of their supports, and many cordon varieties of tomato benefit from the same treatment once they have developed 5-6 tresses of flowers. This encourages the plants to put their energy into fruiting instead of continued upwards growth.
In July you can continue to sow fast-growing crops like lettuces, salad leaves and radishes, as well as Spring cabbage and turnips. It’s your last chance to sow French beans, runner beans and carrots. Peg down runners on your strawberry plants, to create more plants for next year. If you don’t need more plants simply remove the strawberry runners completely.
Gardeners are thankful for the recent rain, which saves us a little extra effort. Watering and feeding are very important at this time, particularly for crops in containers which can dry out much faster. Remember that a good soaking every few days when it is warm is much more beneficial than a light sprinkling, which might moisten the surface but doesn’t reach the roots, where it is needed. Most crops prefer to be watered at the base rather than top-down. Moisture on leaves when it is hot can cause scorching, and in moist, humid conditions, mildew can form.
Fruiting crops also benefit from regular feeding, with tomato or seaweed feeds, or with diluted ‘Comfrey tea’ if you’ve brewed this pungent fertiliser yourself. If you are making your own fertiliser with Comfrey be sure to wear rubber gloves when draining and decanting – the almost suffocating anaerobic smell of rotting flesh/raw sewage/petrol will take any opportunity to adhere itself to your skin! Once fruits start to form on pepper, cucumber and tomato plants they need a high potash fertiliser to boost development. Particularly thirsty crops can benefit from a mulch being applied at the base of the plant – this could be bark or leaves, or gravel or perlite for container plants – which helps to retain moisture.