June/July 2022 Garden Checklist and Solutions
What to plant, prune and pluck this summer, according to your elevation.
Every morning, my neighbor feeds hundreds of wild pigeons in her backyard. They gather all over my fence and roof waiting for mealtime and leave a mess. I have tried talking to her about it, but she continues the ritual despite my complaints. What can I do to convince her to stop?
If you do not live in a community governed by an association that prohibits feeding pigeons (or other wildlife), there is not much you can do to stop your neighbor. Your best bet is installing structures that deter perching. There are a several solutions commercially available for this purpose, the most effective of which use wires or spikes installed closely enough together to prevent pigeons from landing. Avoid the temptation to poison the birds, even if you can find such products on the retail shelf. Other species may eat the poison intended for the pigeons, leading to unintended ingestion by desirable wildlife. You may need to consult with a pest control company that specializes in bird deterrents to install the system that works best for your situation.
What to Plant: Low Elevations
With a few exceptions, early summer is not an optimal time for planting. Maintaining adequate soil moisture to support roots as they colonize new surroundings during this time is challenging, and the intense sunlight and long days so close to the summer solstice can burn fresh plantings within hours. Still, the urge to plant is strong with many of us, despite the weather. At the nursery, pay close attention to the amount of shade provided to your selections and do your best to replicate those sun conditions when placing them in your landscape. Young trees with a lot of exposed trunk may need sun protection for the first summer, and the nursery will likely carry trunk paint or wraps designed for this purpose.
As monsoons move into Arizona, increasing humidity and cloud cover offer more favorable conditions for vegetable gardens. Traditionally, O’Odham (Pima) farmers considered July the best month to plant many food crops. Seeds of watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, squash, tepary bean and cowpea can be sown in July. Native Seed Search is a nonprofit that sells limited quantities of heirloom seeds that are proven to thrive in the low desert. Check out their monsoon collection at nativeseeds.org/collections/seeds-monsoon-collection.
Palms are among the few types of landscape plants that prefer transplanting in summer. This is likely because early summer is the season for vigorous root growth in most palm species. Rapid production of roots is key to absorbing enough water to support newly installed plants. Palms grow fronds from the center of their crown, so take care to protect the crown during transplant. When selecting any permanent landscape plant, consider its ultimate size and the amount of space you have available. Adult Mexican fan palms can reach 100 feet in height and the canopy of adult date palms may spread 30 feet in diameter.
Skip growing summer crops and prepare for fall planting by scattering seeds of cowpeas in garden beds, covering with compost and gently watering to stimulate germination. As the cowpeas grow, they build soil health by adding organic matter and nitrogen, which are key to happy and productive crops. Once the cowpeas have germinated, water every week or so, unless it rains, until late August. At that time, chop the vines and mix them into the topsoil.
I love the taste of home-grown watermelons and other produce but have always struggled to care for my garden. I have a demanding career and just can’t seem to find the energy or time to manage the weeds and other pests that build up every day. What can I do?
Many urban, small-scale farmers are growing fresh, local produce, so you don’t have to. Luckily, Arizona has a thriving local food scene with many farmers markets where you can discover a world of melons, cucumbers and other delicious fruits and vegetables that you won’t find in a typical grocery store. Support these hard-working, small businesses by visiting one of the many farmers markets listed on the Good Food Finder, goodfoodfinderaz.com. Some of the listed farms also offer weekly subscription programs.
What to Plant: Middle Elevations
Transplant Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli by mid-June, giving each plant at least 12 inches in all directions and cover with floating row covers to protect against whiteflies. Sow seeds of pole and bush beans, corn, cantaloupe, watermelon and summer squash by mid-July.
What to Plant: High Elevations
Transplant squash, cucumber, melon, eggplant, tomato and okra seedlings by mid-June to ensure a full harvest before fall chill. Sow seeds of “early” cool-season vegetables, meaning they will be ready for harvest within 60 days of planting. Radish, leaf lettuce, endive, chard, collard greens and beets are good options. Other cool-season crops can be transplanted now, including Brussels sprouts, head lettuce, cabbage and cauliflower.
Sow seeds of calendula, sunflower, California poppy, sweet pea, nasturtium, marigold and morning glory in a weed-free area that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight during the summer months. Transplant snapdragon, petunia, stock, lobelia, pansy, blue and scarlet sage into beds or containers with well-draining soil, meaning there is no pooled water visible an hour or so after irrigation.
Plant summer-blooming bulbs by mid-June to ensure a crop of color in August. Try gladiolus, caladiums, tuberous begonias, calla and canna lilies, dahlias, elephant ears and autumn crocus in beds enriched with 2-3 inches of compost. Plant bulbs at a depth twice their size with the root end facing down and pointed end facing up. Sprinkle a teaspoon of bone meal in the bottom of the hole to support root development and water as you replace the soil. Cover with 2-3 inches of mulch to suppress weeds and conserve moisture.
Garden Maintenance: All Elevations
Arizona soils are typically “heavy,” meaning they have high clay and silt content, which carries the potential to hold a lot of water and be slow to drain. Irrigate heavy soils slowly, giving the water time to penetrate and reach the entire root zone, rather than running off. Every time you irrigate, the water should reach 3 feet deep for trees, 2 feet for shrubs, and 1 foot for turf and flower beds. Plant water needs peak in June and start to decline as the monsoons move into the area.
Garden Maintenance: Low Elevations
GIVE IT A REST
Cover fallow vegetable and flower beds with 6 inches of straw or other mulch if you aren’t up to summer gardening this year. The mulch will prevent the topsoil from blowing away and will also suppress weeds. If weeds were a problem in the beds last season, add a covering of thick, clear plastic and secure the edges with rocks to trap heat. The hot sun will kill seeds in the top few inches of soil over the summer.
Garden Maintenance: Middle and High Elevations
Remove faded flowers from spring and summer-blooming perennials to stimulate a fresh crop of blossoms.
We bought an older home in the Arcadia area of Phoenix that has what we’ve been told is a Chinese date tree. Are the fruits edible?
Chinese dates, also called jujube, are not related to actual dates (which grow from palms) but do produce edible fruit that taste a bit like dates. Jujubes turn from green to brown as they ripen and are usually harvested in late summer in the Phoenix area. Once ripe, the fruits will dry out on the tree within a few days and will appear wrinkled and leathery. Although still edible at this stage, most people prefer to eat them a bit younger, while still relatively plump. Check on their progress daily, and harvest while they are at peak quality. It’s hard to find jujubes at nurseries, so hopefully you consider your tree a bonus.