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Jonathan Garcia. (photo: Kaitlyn Fleer)

Jonathan Garcia, owner of Mantis Landscaping in San Pedro, knows a thing or two about vegetable gardening.

An avid gardener since childhood, he specializes in building and maintaining landscapes and edible gardens across the South Bay. I met with Jonathan at one of those gardens — lush and filled with herbs, veggies, and fruit trees — to pick his brain about July gardening tips. Here’s what he told me.

Jonathan Garcia. (photo: Kaitlyn Fleer)

July is a month where it might seem like there’s not much to do in the veggie patch. The plants are well into the growing season and producing their first crops, making the gardener feel like they can kick back. And while it’s true that July is much less hectic than spring, Jonathan recommends staying vigilant and keeping watch for pests.

“The first thing I do when I come to the garden is check the flowers,” he says, referring to a few pansies growing near some peppers. “I check underneath all the leaves because the bugs are going to hide underneath them and in the little crevices.”

If you do find pests, such as aphids, mealybugs, or scale, it’s best to get a jump on control early. Neem oil, Dr. Bronner’s soap, or just a good jet of water from the hose are Jonathan’s weapons of choice since they’re organic and work well if they’re sprayed every two weeks. But he cautions they’re harmful to the good bugs as well as the bad.

“Use them in the evenings when all your pollinators have gone,” he says. “These things are organic, but it doesn’t mean they’re not harmful.”

Another thing to keep watch for in the July garden is yellowing leaves. Yellow leaves at the bottom of plants are normal as plants shed their older leaves in favor of new growth. However, if leaves are yellowing at the middle or the top of the plant, it could be a sign of a more significant problem.

Jonathan recommends keeping a close eye on things to learn to tell the difference. “Always look at your new growth. That will be an indicator of a healthy or unhealthy plant,” he advises, grabbing a young leaf at the top of an eggplant. “Here, the new growth is beautiful. The color is bright, the texture is good. So I’m not worried that a few of the bottom leaves are dying.”

Yellowing leaves from disease is a different story, of course. While there’s no simple answer to identifying and fixing diseases, the best treatment is prevention. If you’re thinking about treating the disease rather than promoting the healthy soil that keeps plants strong, “you’re kind of doing it backward,” he says.

Even so, disease does happen. To diagnose a mystery disease, Jonathan starts by taking notes and pictures of the affected leaves. He’ll then research to develop a few hypotheses before trying out a few remedies to see what works. This trial-and-error approach — which defines gardening — is also why he recommends keeping a record of everything you do in your yard.

While I use a journal, Jonathan uses an app that allows him to save pictures of his plants, organize his gardens by property, and even monitor irrigation. Over time, you’ll learn to recognize when issues are self-inflicted or due to something entirely out of your control. “If you’re in the garden and just going for it, the technical expertise will follow,” Jonathan recommends. “Just get out there, grow some tomatoes, and enjoy the experience.”

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Nadia Nizetich