July is a month of lush growth and expectation in the container garden – with the best harvests of the year just round the corner. With luck, you might already be harvesting peas, courgettes, strawberries and beans now, along with the first tomatoes (cherry tomatoes are usually the first to ripen).
If you want to keep up a supply of salads and other leaves later in the summer and early autumn, it can be a good idea to sow some more now (to replace existing leaves that may go bitter or to seed over the summer months).
Jobs for the container garden this month include:
- Sowing and cuttings
- Pruning, tying up, pinching out
Watering is as important as ever this month. As the days get warmer and plants get bigger and start producing fruit, they’ll need more water than earlier in the year. Without enough water (and it can be easy to forget when you are busy – so a daily routine can really help) plants get stressed – this in turn reduces yields, and increases the risk of pests and disease. You can find ideas on how to make watering your container garden easier here. Hanging baskets baskets pose particular watering challenges, you can find out more about here.
New multipurpose compost usually contains enough nutrients to support optimum growth for about six weeks – after that your crops will need feeding. And they’ll need it most in warm weather when growth will be at at its peak.
- Use a liquid tomato feed for all your fruiting crops, once they start flowering and fruiting (see June for more info).
- Mulch hungry crops like courgettes and tomatoes with worm compost if you have it. Not essential but this will give them a nice boost of nutrients and microbial life, and help retain water. Manure or homemade compost is an alternative if you can source some some, perhaps from a city farm. (‘Mulch’ basically means spreading a layer of an inch or two on top of the soil).
- Water leafy crops with a general purpose organic liquid feed like liquid seaweed, nettle tea, or worm tea once a week.
3. Sowing and cuttings
Sow salads now if you want to keep up your salad supply in September and October. If you don’t have space in your pots, start them in trays ready to move when space appears. (If you find you don’t need extra plants, you can always eat the baby salad seedlings as micro leaves!).
Sow kale, cavelo nero and chard now for autumn leaves and to establish plants to grow over winter.
Oriental leaves and fennel
Now is a good time to sow fennel and oriental leaves like pak choi, mustard red giant and mizuna, as they are less prone to bolt than earlier in the year (bolting is when crops start to flower and seed before you want them to)
Beans, peas and courgettes
In southern parts of the UK and anywhere where the first frosts cannot be expected until late October / early November, there is time to sow courgettes, runner beans, French beans and peas and get a crop before the first frosts in the autumn (get them in as early in July as possible). In colder parts, where frosts may strike in early October, the chances of getting a good crop a lower.
July is a good time to take softwood cuttings (from this years growth) of herbs like lemon verbena, rosemary, Vietnamese coriander, sage, and thyme. This is a great way to expand your herb garden at low cost (free!). You just need to find a friend, neighbour or community garden with a nice herb collection where you can take the cuttings.
4. Pruning, tying up, pinching out.
- Bushy plants that cast shade. In a small space it’s not uncommon for the leaves of big bushy plants like courgettes to start casting shade on other crops. Sometimes you can move the pots around to reduce the shading. Or you can remove a few of the largest leaves (up to about a third of the leaves) to create light for your other crops.
- Tomato side shoots need constant pinching out to keep them under control.
- Climbing crops like peas, beans and tomatoes usually need constant tying in to ensure they are secure. Double check this if windy weather is forecast.
- Pinch out the growing tips of climbers (runners, tomatoes etc) when they reach the tops of their poles. This will encourage them to put their energy into producing fruit.
As mentioned last month, keeping harvesting your crops to encourage them to keep growing and fruiting. Runner beans and courgettes, in particular, are best picked small. If your salads start to bolt, picking off the flowering shoot at the top (normally good to eat) will often enable you to extend the life of it a bit.
As the weather warms, check your wormery is not sitting in the sun all day – worms do not like to get too hot. A shady spot is best if you have one. Remember, too, that worms will usually eat more when its warm. If you plan to go away, they’ll be fine for a few weeks without food. Just feed them normally before you go (I sometimes add a layer of manure, too) and then as soon as you get back.