July garden tips and gardening checklist (© Plush Studios/Getty Images)

© Plush Studios/Getty Images

While you're standing at the grill, brushing barbecue sauce on sizzling chicken and passing out cold ones to your friends, remember that your garden friends will be extra thirsty this month too.

Gardens should explode with color and fruit this month, as long as you don't let them dry out — and be ferocious about pest and weed control. (Bing: What's typically the hottest day of the year?)

Go wild! "Color spots," usually sold in 4-inch, 6-inch or 1-gallon pots, can go straight from the pot into the ground to instantly jazz up colorless corners around your garden. They also make great additions to container gardens and window box plantings. Here is what you need to do to make sure your flowering annuals are healthy, last longer and provide an impressive display:

  • Check all annuals often for dryness; new plantings are especially needy as they establish their roots.
  • Deadhead spent blossoms — snap or snip them off — to reinvigorate flowering plants; you'll be rewarded by more flower and root growth.
  • For a second bloom, cut annuals back to half their height and fertilize.
  • Replace dead annuals with hardy annual or perennial newcomers.

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Perennials can be transplanted all month; keep on top of deadheading duties.

  • In mild climates, fertilize roses once a month throughout the summer.
  • Bearded irises should be separated and given a bit more space between now and August, especially if it hasn't been done in the past three to five years. After the last iris blooms fade, stop giving them water. When leaves start turning brown, trim them down to green areas in a two-snip pyramid shape. Dig them up and cut apart their knobby rhizomes. Set them in the shade for a few days to harden off. Replant at the same depth (rhizomes should be approximately level with the ground) in soil that's been amended with processed manure and compost.

If you're an inveterate summer waterer, your lawn might need a light application of fertilizer this month, even if it was fertilized in early spring.

  • When mowing, recycle nutrients by letting lawn clippings stay in place, or spread them with a rake.
  • Water early in the morning before the sun is at its hottest, so that plants benefit before evaporation takes place.
  • Water deeply and less often — say, an hour once a week. Aim sprinklers so that their spray benefits life forms only; water on the sidewalk is water wasted!
  • In dry weather, trim lawn edges.

Think of July as maintenance month, and roll up the sleeves on that denim shirt.

  • Take no prisoners in the war against weeds.
  • Trim periwinkle and other ground covers after they've finished blooming.
  • Thin plants to give them better air circulation and exposure to the sun.

All that nice bacteria you've been nurturing as future plant food needs a little extra attention in the dog days of summer.

  • Keep feeding the pile with organic materials.
  • Turn compost at least once a week.
  • If compost becomes too dry the bacteria will die, so give your heap a shower whenever it starts to get crusty.

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Even in the heart of summer, in most areas you can keep planting vegetables for fall harvest.

  • Plant potatoes early in the month.
  • Sow seeds of these leafy green and red vegetables: spinach, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, radishes, beets, carrots, peas, bush beans, onions and scallions.
  • As you start to enjoy the fruits of your labor, there are always a few things you can fiddle with in the vegetable garden.
  • Tomatoes and peppers are shameless sun lovers, so you should see lots of growth. Keep them off the ground, and harvest them as soon as they ripen so pests don't beat you to the draw.
  • Keep mulch around tomato plants evenly spread and slightly moist.
  • Plant veggies now for fall and winter harvest.
  • Transplant greens such as kale and collards, broccoli, cauliflower and early cabbage.
  • Transplant colorful ornamental kale in midmonth.

When it's hot outdoors, greenhouses can turn into pressure cookers. Be sure those thirsty hothouse tomatoes and cucumbers are kept satisfied. Provide adequate ventilation during hot months, especially before making a summer getaway.

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Pest control
Pests are everywhere, but if you've had a rainy June, you're looking at some serious damage control now.

  • Root rot is a frequent hazard of wet seasons; help prevent it by thinning mulch around vulnerable plants.
  • Look for slugs under moist mulch and in ground cover — a favorite retreat.
  • Spray honeysuckles for aphids every 10 to 14 days; spray them with an insecticidal soap or give them a strong blast with a hose.
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The weeds you didn't catch before flowering are probably supping happily on your soil now; stay ahead of the game as the next generation peeps up.

Hoe young weeds and leave them in place with their roots exposed. If you do this early on a sunny day, the sun will do the rest of the work.

Because pruning stimulates new growth, if you expect an early winter or you're in a cold-winter region, avoid pruning trees and bushes. In milder climates, prune dead wood from shrubs and trees in early to midsummer.

  • Thin apples and pears.
  • Trim back lindens, boxwoods and other hedges.

As the saying goes, you reap just what you sow, and this month you should be getting plenty of perks from your spring efforts.

  • Harvest ripe vegetables and fruits as soon as possible to stay a step ahead of pests.
  • Help strawberry plants stay strong after harvest: Clear out weeds, then clip or high-mow tops, avoiding plant crowns.

Container plants
Container plants get extremely thirsty in summer months and may need water as often as once or twice a day. If you're a newcomer to container gardening, you're in for a treat.

  • Planters can be tucked into any cranny. Fill in bare garden spots, arrange them on steps and along walkways, frame a garage door, set them on railings, or circle them around the old oak tree.
  • Variety is the spice of container gardening. Combine containers of different shapes, sizes, colors and textures.
  • Try grouping similar flowers with a zap of something completely different. Don't worry about being perfect; just choose plants you like and learn as you go.
  • Move pots around, from sun to shade, or just for a change of mood.
  • Branch out from terra-cotta pots and window boxes. Containers made of resin and other synthetics are available in a riot of shapes and styles, from "estate classic" to "Mediterranean" — and they're lightweight. Or get funky with old washbasins and hand-painted coffee cans. Just be sure that containers have drainage holes in the bottom.