July is maintenance month for the garden
Even though the garden is mostly dormant, there are still plenty of things to do.
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July is maintenance month for the garden. Following the winter solstice, growth has slowed down, leaving gardeners with time for those once-a-year jobs of fixing, tidying and refurbishing.
Start by giving outside furniture its winter treatment. Sand down wooden furniture and apply a wood treatment. Any paint or hardware shop will advise on the correct product.
Wash metal or plastic furniture and give metal furniture a coat of paint. Repaint garden walls and containers, too.
Take the lawnmower for a service and sharpen the blades so it doesn’t tear the grass. Also sharpen secateurs and loppers in preparation for pruning towards the end of the month.
The winter months are ideal for minor building jobs, such as replacing cracked pavers, redoing the paving or installing a mowing edge.
Large areas of paving can be bland and uninteresting. Break the uniformity by lifting some of the paving and plant ground covers in between. The low-maintenance aspect can still be preserved but with interesting pattern and texture added.
Check the irrigation system for leaks, blocked nozzles or for plants that have overgrown or are obstructing nozzles. If the system is automatic, adjust the run time to deliver less water.
Garden tasks are minimal. Water in the morning so leaves are dry by the afternoon. Don’t let the soil dry out completely. Water container-grown vegetables and herbs twice a week and feed twice a month.
Stake broad beans, Brussels sprouts and kale if necessary and earth up around the stems of cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower if they need support. Feed leafy green vegetables with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser once a month.
Veggies that stand still over winter, like spinach, cabbage, and even beetroot will grow better under plastic. Make small tunnels, using wire hoops and plastic that is laid over the hoops and held down by soil at the edges.
Mulch beds to keep the soil warm and moist for longer. Keep protecting tender vegetables with frost cloth or cloches (using plastic two-litre bottles).
Even the decomposition process in the compost slows down in winter, but you can maintain an essential core of heat that keeps microbes active.
Help chilly, sluggish microbes by doing some of the work for them – chop or shred both browns and greens before adding them to the heap.
Take time to add layers of brown ingredients to your green materials. The layers help insulate the heap, trapping heat and gases inside.
Add manure from chickens or rabbits for heat-generating nitrogen. Small amounts of ashes from your fireplace, will enhance the calcium, phosphorus and potassium content of your compost.
Winter winds and low humidity can dry out the compost, so moisten the compost heap once a month. It should remain damp, not soaking.
Don’t turn the compost heap in winter as it releases the heat. Wait until spring.
To boost the compost heap’s external temperature, site your compost in full sun.
Covering your heap with a canvas or plastic prevents heat and moisture loss (or too much water in winter rainfall areas).
As you sit in front of the fire with a glass of wine, start planning next season’s veggie garden.
Don’t rely on your memory. Rather write down all your plans, make sketches of your veggie garden and pencil in last season’s summer planting plan, the present winter planting plan and what you would like to plant this coming summer.
Draw up a sowing plan, which can be as simple as circling the months when you want to plant, use internet planting guides (Jane’s Delicious Garden Veggie Planting Guide) or draw up your own 52-week plan, courtesy of Excel or a desktop calendar.
Start a garden diary and record sowing dates, pest control, rainfall, harvest dates and yields so you have a record for next year.
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