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Water challenges, fruit abundance & care, succession plantings

“Dry” is the primary descriptor that stands out for me for our garden conditions at this time. If you’re in a more urban setting and have been watering regularly, the dryness may not be so apparent. But several major wildfires in our region now attest to bone dry conditions. Although last year had even less rain, the miracle of 2 inches in late June gave our gardens a much-needed boost. No such miracles seem likely this year.

The challenge of balancing water conservation and adequate water for the garden is further complicated for me now that I finally realize that the underwired beds and baskets in my garden are largely undermined or surrounded by gopher tunnels. I’ve been trying to figure out why some plants are not more vigorous, so I’ve been poking around and found that the soil collapsed in places on the edges of the beds. It appears that a lot of the precious water has been draining away in the tunnels leaving plant roots high and dry. I’m not sure of what I can do about this now, as I can’t collapse the runs that are under the beds, and I’m hesitant to use as much water as it would take to flood/collapse them. Any suggestions?

On a more positive note, the dry weather seems to have made this a good season for stone fruit. I’m hearing about great crops of plums, peaches and even some apricots – which usually do poorly in this area. In general these trees do best in warmer, drier regions, so perhaps climate change is making this a more favorable stone fruit area? We already have a bumper first crop of figs too, with the second crop coming on strong as well.

Unfortunately, I’m also hearing about lots of broken branches under heavy fruit crops. The importance of pruning to develop good, strong tree structure, as well as fruit thinning, becomes evident when there is a big crop. And even with good pruning and thinning, branch supports are often needed to help carry the weight. Once again, spending time observing closely and being an active partner with your garden is really the heart of gardening and leads to more satisfying results.

Summer fruit tree pruning can be a good way to balance fruit tree growth and improve the current crop. Pruning some of the current year’s growth on fruit trees will help limit tree height, let more light into the developing fruit and potential fruit buds, and takes some weight of the tree too. It’s good to do some summer pruning of trees that are overly vigorous or too tall in June or July. I focus on removing vertical growth at the top of the tree but also take some shoots going into the middle of the tree and shorten or remove weak growth that is not in desired locations. Winter pruning invigorates deciduous trees and summer pruning will help keep them to a manageable size. But take care not to remove so much that the tree or fruit will sunburn.

In the vegetable garden, this time is about keeping the vining crops – tomatoes, pole beans and cucumbers – tucked into or trained onto their supports. Checking every couple of days alerts us to what there is to harvest too, and regular picking is important to continued production. This is especially true with summer squash – zucchini and its close relatives; if they get over-mature they often won’t continue to give good quality squash.

If you have space, you can still do another planting of more beans, squash or cucumbers now, but in most locations, mid July is about the latest time to start these crops. If you want parsnips or leeks this winter, start these from seed ASAP. Parsnips must be direct-seeded and can be slow to germinate, so keep the seed bed moist. Leeks can be started in containers or a nursery bed and transplanted. I see that there will be a new moon toward the end of July so that could be a good time to start fall crops of carrots or beets and the first sowing of the fall brassicas – especially long season crops like Brussels sprouts or late cabbages. But you will have a couple more months for fall plantings too. So meanwhile, enjoy the glory of your summer garden!