July is the month gardeners look to the skies for relief from the dry heat of June. Even though the Rim country can suffer the hottest temperatures of the year in July, there is also relief in the form of monsoon rains.
As the possibility of gully washer rainstorms looms on the horizon, preparing to take advantage of free water can fill cool morning hours outside. Any method of catching rainwater to prevent runoff will benefit heat-stressed plants, save on water usage and high water bills, and give the gardener a sense of partnership with Mother Nature.
Rooftops and other impermeable hard surfaces serve as watershed devices, waiting for water to be channeled into a catchment system. Sophisticated catchment systems can be costly and labor intensive, and require advance planning and design.
Rain barrels are not expensive or difficult to purchase and install. The barrels are available locally from Back to Basics and Payson Feed and Pet Supply.
With a hoe, the gardener can channel water from where it runs off the roof to a place it can be used by landscape plants or the garden. If the channel is wide and deep enough to line with rocks and meander away from the house toward planting areas, it becomes a swale, or dry creek bed.
Digging small catchment basins on the uphill side of trees and shrubs, and adding a small berm on the downhill side will allow water to pool around the plant and soak in slowly.
When the rains do come, make sure all automatic watering systems are adjusted accordingly.
A rain gauge in the garden will provide an accurate indication of how much moisture the plants received.
Additional water-saving information is available online at www.xeriscapeaz.org, http://drought.colostate.edu, and www.xeriscape.org.
Garden chores and activities this month include:
Planting: Take a look at all the drought tolerant trees and shrubs making their way into our nurseries. Be sure to read the tags to know if a plant requires full sun or part shade, and what its cold and heat tolerance zones are. Plant drought tolerant, hardy perennials that will last for years to replace annuals that are tired and limp from the heat
Protect: If fickle Jack Frost allowed any fruit to form, now is the time to prune green fruit to increase remaining fruit size while ripening, and to protect branches from breaking. Prop up heavy branches of stone fruit that soon will be ready for picking. Keep a vigilant eye on insects. Caterpillars of all sorts will respond to 'BT', bacillus thurengenisis, a biological pesticide which will not harm birds or beneficial insects. Sprinkling boric acid around the foundation and entrance to the home will deter ants and roaches, and is safe around children and pets.
Mulch: Any organic material will do. Mulching allows water to be absorbed into the soil from above as it rains and prevents rapid runoff, but slows down evaporation when our weather is hot and dry.