Garden Tips – August 2018

The weather over the past couple of months makes watering a hot topic. Last year when we addressed watering, our advice, coupled with the subsequent start of the school holidays triggered a couple of months of rainfall; maybe we can do the same this year.

The most important thing to remember is that water is required at the roots of plants. Dry soil surfaces do not necessarily mean that it is dry where it matters, probe deeper to see what the soil is like lower down. The condition of the plants themselves will indicate whether or not they have enough water. Indeed, a dry surface can be quite helpful, if there is moisture below as it will help to prevent evaporation from the lower soil levels. An added bonus is that a dry surface helps to stop annual and ephemeral weeds germinating.

When watering think about priorities. Trees and shrubs planted within the last year or so may well need additional water; if you didn’t have a watering tube put in at the time of planting, then try sinking a flower pot into the soil close to the plant. Filling this will direct water down and help to avoid evaporation losses.

Many vegetables are annuals and are generally grown quickly to produce a crop, so are thirsty. This is especially case for the cucurbit family, but again using a sunken flower pot as a watering mechanism can make watering easy and efficient. The squashes shown below are only being watered once a fortnight, albeit with a full 10 litre watering can per plant each time and they are healthy and setting fruit. The weed suppressant membrane is also acting as a mulch; helping to preserve the moisture levels below ground and this leads on to the next point.

Squashes 21 June

Squashes 21 June

Squashes 19 July

Squashes 19 July

Mulching is an excellent way to stop evaporation, but needs to be done when there is plenty of water already in the ground (early spring is a pretty good time to seal in winter rain). Using a bulky organic mulch such as well rotted manure or garden compost will also help to improve soil structure, so it gives a double benefit.

In the flower garden; taking semi-ripe cuttings from your favourite Osteospermums and Pelargoniums and over-wintering the young plants in a frost free space will give you summer bedding for next year.

With the warm soil it is now an excellent time to apply vine weevil nematodes to pots and borders if you suffer from this pest.

Another pest that is prevalent at this time of year is saw fly and stripped rose leaves are a clear indicator of the presence of this pest, use your preferred method of control if the plants are suffering.

Watering tends to help to leach out nutrients, so for summer flowers, a high potassium feed (e.g. tomato food) along with regular dead-heading, will help to keep flowering plants productive. Of course you can also use the same feed for tomatoes and while the dry weather may be making hard work for gardeners, the high levels of light over the past few months are really helping plants to grow and fruit like tomatoes to ripen. We’re now picking tomatoes every other day and the ripening conditions have meant that they are full of flavour.

Tomatoes 5 Aug 2018

Tomatoes 5 Aug 2018

While in the vegetable garden, you can be looking ahead and sowing spring cabbages for next year.

Garden Tips – July 2018

June tends to see a spurt in growth across the garden, so July is a month to maintain the progress that nature has kick-started.

Summer flowers like sweet peas and dahlias are now giving a profusion of colour, and scent if you’ve got the right sweet peas, keep dead-heading them to prolong the flowering. Equally cutting flowers for indoors will also stimulate more flower bud formation.  The sweet pea pyramids planted up in May are now looking good and producing some lovely cut flowers for the house

Sweet pea pyramids

Sweet pea pyramids

Sweet peas

Sweet peas

If you have maples in pots, especially the dissected leaf forms, keep them sheltered from hot sun and keep them well watered to avoid leaf scorch.

To prepare for the autumn, July is the perfect month to plant Colchicums and autumn flowering crocuses. They should be planted in well drained soil immediately after purchase to ensure that the bulbs do not become desiccated. They do best in a sheltered spot, but one that does get some sunshine, in deep shade the flower spikes can be quite spindly.

As most nestlings will have now fledged, it is a good time to tidy up hedges without any risk of disturbing nesting birds. While caring for birds, top up bird baths to make sure that there is water easily available. While you are thinking about tiding up hedges have a look at any variegated shrubs and prune out any stems that are reverting to the normal green leaf colour. These are much more robust than the variegated stems and will soon start to dominate if left untended.

July is a great month in the kitchen garden. Strawberries and raspberries are at their peak, early potatoes can be dug as and when you need them, fresh peas are lucky to make it as far as the kitchen and the first beans, courgettes and tomatoes should all be ready.

You’ll still need to monitor for pests, aphids are around all summer and if you grow brassicas, the cabbage white season is now upon us. If you can, the best way to protect your brassicas is to net them using a fine mesh to prevent the butterflies from laying their eggs on your plants in the first place. However, closely you watch your plants it is often the damage from the caterpillars that is the first sign that will be noticed rather than the eggs. The RHS advice page may put you off entirely, but hopefully this picture will show that it is possible to keep your cabbages healthy.

Kalibos Cabbages

Kalibos Cabbages

July is also the time to plant cold stored “second cropping” potatoes these can give you new potatoes for Christmas.

Garden Tips – June 2018

Many summer flowering plants are now in very active growth and it is a good time to propagate by taking softwood cuttings. Plants that will give good results at this time of year include Fuchsias, Pelargoniums, Buddleia, lavender and Hydrangea. Providing bottom heat using a heated propagator will increase your chances of success.

Early flowering shrubs can now be pruned as the new growth that comes this summer will give next year’s flowering wood. Deutzia, Kolkwitzia, Philadelphus and Weigela should all finish flowering in June, making later in the month an ideal time to prune them. Early June is also the traditional time for trimming box. While doing this, keep an eye out for damage caused by box tree caterpillars. This relatively newly arrived pest is spreading rapidly in Southern England and can cause serious defoliation. The RHS is running a survey to track its spread and you can record sightings here.

Keep on top of weeds, which are likely to be growing well in warmer conditions. If conditions are dry then hoeing annual and ephemeral weeds can be very effective at this time of year. Perennial weeds, especially those with long tap roots will still need to be dug out.

Another maintenance job that will be high on the agenda this month is mowing, the warm weather coupled with the plentiful rain we had earlier in the spring, means that grass is likely to be growing strongly. Don’t set mower blades too low as taking a lot of growth off in one pass can stress the plants. If you do need to take quite a lot of growth off, try to do it in a couple of stages.  A mown lawn really helps to make the whole garden look neater.

A mown lawn

A mown lawn

In the vegetable garden, all risks of frost should now have passed so it is time to plant out tender crops such as courgettes, squashes and outdoor tomatoes.  Squashes will grow really quickly in the warmer weather, but do keep them well watered. Recently we’ve taken to using the gro-pots often used with gro-bags to make sure that we can direct water to the roots of plants.

Squash bed in late June

Squash bed in late June

Elsewhere in the vegetable plot, everything should be growing strongly, so remember to feed the plants. For leafy crops a general feed will work well, but for fruiting crops (tomatoes etc.) now is the time to switch to a high potassium feed to foster flower and fruit formation. Keep an eye on your tomatoes and keep pinching out the additional shoots growing from the axils of the main stem to ensure that you have one solid stem transporting water and nutrients to the swelling fruit.

Early peas are starting to be ready for picking now and this is the perfect time to sow more peas to give an extra autumn crop.

Peas for picking

Peas for picking

If you have apple or pear trees you’ll notice that the trees are shedding small immature fruit at the moment. This “June drop” is perfectly normal and once it is done, then it is time to thin out the fruit even further. Thinning out will give you much better quality fruit and reduce the risk of diseases (such as brown rot) which can be spread by overcrowding.

June drop

June drop

Finally, one of the joys of gardening is looking forward and now is the time to sow wallflowers that you can plant out in the autumn ready for flowering next spring.

Garden Tips – May 2018

Despite the curious weather that we have seen so far this year, by May we can assume that the risk of a hard frost has passed and with longer, warmer days everything should be growing.

Of course warmer weather means that the weeds will start growing quickly, so make sure that you keep on top of the weeding early in the season before annual and ephemeral weeds set seeds and perennial weeds get established. Warmer weather also brings out the pests and Lily beetles and aphids are both problems at this time of year. Watch plants carefully to make sure that if pests are starting to infest that you catch them early. Observation is at the heart of an integrated pest management system.

More positively, you can start thinking about extra summer colour now, as well as summer bedding in borders, summer containers around doors and sitting areas brighten up the garden at a very reasonable price. The colours of summer bedding are great, but as well as colour, don’t forget scent and even edible options. A hanging basket of tumbling tomatoes looks good, gives a hefty crop and is a conversation piece. Another eye-catching option, that will also give heady scent, is to create a wigwam of sweet peas in a large pot. If you cut the flowers regularly it will help prolong flowering giving you benefits both indoors and out.

Sweet Pea wigwam 7 May

Sweet Pea wigwam 7 May

May is the peak month for Rhododendron flowers, so dead-head them at the end of the month to create space for new shoots.

Peak Rhododendron 1 May

Peak Rhododendron 1 May

Rhododendron 2

Rhododendron Bloom 1 May

 

For high and late summer colour, dahlias and Cannas are popular and reliable performers. Neither of these plants are frost hardy, so make sure that you wait until all risk of frost has passed before putting them out. If you have facilities like a greenhouse, then bringing dahlias on in a greenhouse will mean that the plants are much bigger by the time you plant them out and flowering will start earlier.

In the vegetable garden you should be earthing up potatoes and planting out the tender summer fruiting crops such as courgettes, squashes and tomatoes. If you’re lucky enough to have an asparagus bed then you should be reaping the rewards of your foresight right now.

Waiting to go out 7 May

Waiting to go out 7 May

You’ll probably be into regular grass cutting by now and a high nitrogen feed will help the sward to thicken up. If you have problems with moss and want to reduce the weed population, then it is worth using a complete “weed and feed” mixture. Following a treatment with scarification will get rid of thatch and dead moss and get air to the grass roots to help the grass plants grow more strongly.

Garden Tips – March 2018

We often give a warning that even though meteorological spring starts on the first of March there can still be bursts of cold weather. That is definitely true this year.

First day of spring 2018

First day of spring 2018

Brave crocuses

Brave crocuses

By the end of March the hour will have gone back and with more daylight, things will really get growing. Of course new growth on emerging perennials like Hostas and Delphiniums is a delight for slugs and snails, so be ready with your preferred defence.

As the month wears on, the flowers on the earliest spring bulbs will start to die off, so be sure to pinch off the dead heads so that the leaves feed the bulb for next year, rather than encouraging seed formation. Leave the foliage for 4-6 weeks after flowering to get as much photosynthesis as possible.

March is a good month for pruning perennials such as Cornus and Salix that are grown for their striking stem colour over the winter. New growth gives the best colour, so you can prune back hard, but if you want the interest at a greater height, for example at the back of a border, leave a longer old stem so that the newer growth will be higher up. Buddleia is another plant that can be cut back hard now as it flowers on new wood later in the year.

In the vegetable garden you can get your early potatoes in the ground in mid to late March and spring sown planted onion and shallot sets can still go out. If you have a propagator, a greenhouse, or even a warm window ledge, then whatever the weather outside, you can sow tender fruiting vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines etc.)

Propagator

Propagator

Don’t overwater seedlings, especially those of smaller plants to avoid the fungal diseases that cause “damping off” – which can quickly kill off most of the contents of a seed tray.

This is a good time of year to try to propagate Cotinus, Cornus and Magnolia by layering. Full instructions can be found on the RHS website but the main steps are:

  • Choose flexible young shoots on the outside of the plant that can be bent down to ground level.
  • Mark the point where the shoot touches the ground with a bamboo cane.
    About 30cm (1ft) from the shoot tip, make a 2.5-5cm incision along the stem, running through a leaf bud (remove the leaf first if the plant is in leaf). This will create a wedge that you should prop open with a small piece of wood.
  • Apply hormone rooting compound to the surfaces of the wound.
  • Make a shallow trench in the soil, 10-15cm deep, back from the bamboo cane towards the parent plant.
  • Peg the wounded section of stem into the trench with a loop of thick wire.
  • Secure the tip of the shoot to the bamboo cane, so that it is growing upwards.
  • Fill up the trench with soil, firm in and water if dry.

Garden Tips – February 2018

With the winter festivities behind us, and the days starting to lengthen, may we be the last to wish everyone a happy 2018.

Hellebores in full flower and emerging snowdrops, crocus and daffodils all tell us that another gardening year is beginning, so here are some jobs for this month to get you going.

Hellebore January 2018

Hellebore January 2018

Snowdrops January 2018

Snowdrops January 2018

Crocuses among leaf litter

If it is too wet to get on to lawns and beds a useful job to do at this time of year is to re-pot plants that are permanently potted. Fresh compost and a liquid feed will help to boost growth as the days get longer and warmer. If you are moving plants to larger pots only go up by one size at a time. Otherwise, the large volume of new compost added during potting on can sit wet for a long period, reducing aeration around the roots. Instead of the roots growing out into the new compost, they start to rot and this can lead to symptoms such as wilting, dropping and yellowing foliage. Unfortunately, these are similar to the symptoms caused by drought and additional watering of course exacerbates the problem.

It is a good time to prune late flowering clematis and hardy fuchsias. Clematis can be taken down as far as you like, make sure that you make cuts just above a node. Similarly, with fuchsias, you can cut back last season’s stems as far as you like. Again make cuts just above nodes and leave as much stem as you need to create the shape that you want to achieve.

Herbaceous perennials and grasses that have been left over the winter to provide structure and seed heads are looking past their best now and can be cut back before new growth starts to emerge.

There is still time to plant bare rooted trees and shrubs, especially if you are on lighter soil as it will warm up more quickly than heavier ground. However, if the ground is frozen or waterlogged then you will have to wait.

For the kitchen garden, you can begin sowing summer cabbages, broad beans and beetroot under cover and if you haven’t done it yet, sow onions and leeks. We tend to sow all of these in seed trays or cells so that they can develop good root systems before they have to take their chances in the allotment.

'Plug' plants Mar 2013

‘Plug’ plants Mar 2013

It’s time to cut back your autumn fruiting raspberry canes to ground level, and try slicing a spade around the area to limit their spread.

30 June 2017

30 June 2017

Now

Now

Finally, don’t forget to feed the birds. This is a “hungry gap” where most berries have been taken and the insect populations haven’t really started to pick up, so they will welcome any treats you can provide. If it freezes they’ll also benefit from having water put out for them. This winter we’ve had a new visitor to the bird feeder in the form of a blackcap.

Blackcap December 2017

Blackcap December 2017

Blackcap December 2017

Blackcap December 2017