By Jane Gates
Signal Contributing Writer
Now that the 4th of July is past, we are officially into the summer. Chances are we will not be seeing a lot of cloud cover or many days under 90 degrees, if any, for at least the next couple of months. That means that working in the garden will be best done during the coolest hours of the day.
We do not live in the desert, but we are mostly in a biome called chaparral (made famous by the “High Chaparral” TV show from 1967-71). The chaparral is actually a description of the tough, brittle, natural vegetation that grows here, adapted by hundreds of years in dry, hot summers with cooler, moister winters that, in higher elevations like ours, used to experience nighttime frosts. What this all means to us in Santa Clarita, is simply that we can expect desert-like heat and dryness that is often attributed to the Mojave or Sahara. But our soil, flora and terrain is different. So, how do we garden in the SCV chaparral summer?
Clean up and clean out
First, we make sure that brush on the hills and in open areas, dead stuff in the gardens and gutters are all cleared out. Wildfires took the winter off this year, but you don’t want any of these fire-fuel sources to invite disaster to your home now that dry, toasty summer has arrived.
Grass will need cutting and edging. Since they are high-maintenance water-guzzlers, keep lawn areas to where they will be most useful. Other spaces can be filled with decorative drought-tolerant gardens, colorful stone or pavers or used for productive things like vegetable, herb or flower-cutting gardens.
Keep pulling out weeds while they are small and before they get established in your garden or lawn areas. Our local weeds quickly form tough, deep roots.
Mulch or use pepples
Add a top layer of compost as mulch. Mulch works as a barrier to keep out the heat of the beating sun while slowing evaporation and locking in precious water around plant roots. For California natives and drought-tolerant plants, mulch with small twigs and stones – the usual stuff that covers our non-cultivated land. (It’s free!)
For cactus and succulent gardens, try a layer of pebbles, gravel or pea gravel. You can even find decorative stone in a wide range of colors that will make your garden surface ornamental. Small, hard material like gravel will not absorb water and will keep the vulnerable necks of cactus and succulent plants, where the roots join the plant body, from rotting. Composted organic mulch usually works best with flower beds or edibles.
Irrigate early in the morning — on or before sunrise is best. Check water systems during the day to make regular adjustments you might miss if you are still asleep when your irrigation goes on. If water pools or runs off anywhere, cut down the application time and turn it off for 15 minutes or more to soak into the soil. Then, set it to run again.
Irrigating for short spurts will let the water sink in. If you can afford it, consider buying a smart irrigation timer that will take care of these water adjustments for you. Also, check drip irrigation systems for breaks and leaks. Rabbits are notorious for chomping into plastic tubing.
Plant late-season vegetables from already-started plants in pots or multi-packs. The only vegetables that will germinate from seeds in a timely manner now will be root crops like beets, radishes and carrots.
Crop zucchinis frequently — before they get too big and drain the parent plant of energy. Avoid planting cold-weather crops like cabbage, peas, lettuce and chard. Keep a sharp lookout for insect pests. If you spy them early, a hosing of water or a spray of an insecticidal soap should be all you need for control.
Deadhead and prune
All plants will bloom longer if you keep them deadheaded. This means that you want to cut off wilting flowers before they set seed. Setting seed will drain the plant of energy.
Deadheading is particularly effective with annuals that typically want to keep blooming in order to set as much seed as they can before they die. These are short-lived plants that will only last a single season anyway, so they will keep blooming in the attempt to set more seed if you keep spent flowers removed.
Prune plants lightly for shape and to cut out dead or crossing branches. July is not a good time for heavy pruning.
If you do any new planting, water the newcomers daily for at least a week, especially if they are in sun. And if you can shade them for the first day or two in July heat, they will appreciate it. You can plant at this time of year, but even tough natives will have to be coddled.
Spend hot days designing ideas for new features in your garden. Autumn will be here sooner than you think and that will be a good time for outdoor projects. With the constant rise in the cost of — well, everything! — building materials and construction should probably be planned for sooner than later. So if you want to add a hot tub, a fire pit, an outdoor room, a water feature or a barbecue, these will all add value to your house in the future while you get to enjoy them as long as you live in your home.
July may be good for vacationing and hiding in the air conditioning. But there are plenty of things to do in the garden, especially in the cooler hours of the day.