July good time for a soil test

The July Gardener

Southwest Georgia Master Gardener member Norris Wootton displays an assortment of vegetables grown in her Sasser garaden. Joe Bellacomo

Southwest Georgia Master Gardener member Norris Wootton displays an assortment of vegetables grown in her Sasser garaden. Joe Bellacomo


ALBANY — The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is always encouraging gardeners to get a soil test. This is easier than it sounds, and I heartily recommend it.

You do not need to do it every year. Pick up the sample bag or bags at your County Extension office and follow the instructions written right on the bag. Take your soil sample back to the Extension office, pay them $7 and in a week or so you get an informative computer printout.

We did this when we moved to our current home and discovered that our vegetable patch needed lime and potash, but not phosphorous. The blueberry patch badly needed to be more acidic. More on that later.

During hot and steamy July, keep in mind that your rain barrels or other standing water may breed mosquitoes. I use a product containing bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis. You may ask at your feed and seed or hardware store for a mosquito dunk. This is not the same thing you use in your veggie garden for cabbage worms, but obviously related. I’ve been using this organic mosquito control for years and it is less toxic than the bleach that some people use.

VEGETABLES: Enjoy, enjoy, but also refresh the mulch layer to conserve moisture in the hot, dry days. Hay or pine straw works well for vegetable garden mulch. Water deeply and less often. Keep after weeds, which should be few if you mulched heavily. Start now to plan your fall garden. You may still plant tomatoes, okra, corn and pole beans before July 20. Plant pumpkins for Halloween. If you finish harvesting a row, clean it out immediately. Leaving spent plants in the rows can attract disease and insect pests.

FLOWERS: Keep up with deadheading flowers to encourage more bloom and make your yard attractive. Finish cleaning out the finished compost from your bin and work it in around perennial flowers. Focus on heat and drought resistant flowers like portulaca, gazanias and zinnias. By mid-July do a final pinching of fall blooming flowers like mums. Butterfly weed will bloom a second time in August if you cut it back after the first bloom.

Daylilies are easy to grow and provide vivid color for the yard. They are amazingly hardy and drought tolerant. July is a good time to fertilize daylilies. Use a fertilizer with moderate nitrogen and higher amounts of phosphorous and potash such as 6-12-12 or 5-10-15. Also, if you have compost, work that in around each clump. Fertilize roses each month during summer.

LAWNS: Water deeply and not too often if a green lawn is important to you. Apply one inch of water per week in the absence of rainfall. Water less often and your lawn may look a little brown, but it is only going dormant. Check St. Augustine grass for chinch bugs. For control, put out a product with bifenthrin as the active ingredient. Apply 6 pounds of 16-4-8 per 1,000 square feet of lawn to St. Augustine grass and zoysia grass.

BLUEBERRIES: Blueberries are an excellent ornamental shrub for the yard with pretty blue-green leaves and, if you are lucky, a little fall color. With minimum care, they can produce the bonus of scrumptious berries. Blueberries have few natural enemies. I’ve grown then for many years and have never yet applied a pesticide. Experts say that even considering pesticides, everyone is healthier eating more fruits and vegetables. Even if you don’t want 20 bushes, you can still have a couple of bushes for berry snacking.

July is the right month for light pruning and fertilizing of your blueberry bushes. They don’t need much pruning, but you may snip away branches that look crowded in the middle to let the light in for better berry production. Fertilize with azalea fertilizer (azaleas and blueberries are close relatives) and maybe extra sulfur around March 1st and then again in mid-July. Be sure to sprinkle the fertilizer in a wide band about ten inches away from the base of the bush.

If you failed to get a soil test before you planted your blueberries, do it now. I had blueberries suffer and make very poor growth because the soil was not acidic enough. After I had a soil test and applied sulfur, they really took off. The recommended pH is 4.0 to 5.3. For comparison, tomatoes and most garden vegetables need around a pH 6. You should not fertilize in the fall as that may produce lots of tender growth that might get frost bitten.

Here is way more to tell about blueberry growing than can be covered in this article. Help is extremely easy to find. The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) has myriad publications in an easy to search format. Here is the link: http://www.caes.uga.edu/Publications/index.cfm Look for Circular 946.

Consider a couple of blueberry bushes for your landscape when you are planning what to add this winter. They are an easy care winner.

Norris Wootton is a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer. This article is part of a monthly series focusing on gardening tips for the upcoming month.