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  • Louise Mills

Summertime and the living is easy

Our gardens are looking their best, filled with beautiful colours and scents, and it’s a time to really appreciate the fruits of our labour from earlier in the year. I’ve been enjoying having evening meals al fresco and watching the abundance of insect life taking up residence in my garden. The warm weather has forced me into a slower pace and I prefer to venture out into the garden in the early mornings or evenings to avoid the hottest parts of the day.

Here are some things to be getting on with this month.

Perennials, Shrubs and Trees

● Keep deadheading! Many perennials will continue producing further blooms throughout the summer if they are dead-headed regularly. It’s quite a relaxing job for a warm summer’s evening.

● Now is a good time to cut back salvias, nepetas, geraniums, delphinums, etc. to encourage a second flush of flowering in late summer. Many of the flowered stems can be cut back completely to the base/crown and the plants will regrow from there.

● Don’t forget to support any perennials. Sudden bursts of wind or rain can cause plants to bend and break.

● Take semi-ripe cuttings from shrubs. Cuttings should be taken from this year’s growth once the stems have started to become woody at the base. Hydrangea and conifer cuttings can be taken at this time of year.

● Take cuttings of tender perennials such as salvias, penstemons and pelargoniums. They can replace any lost during the winter!

● Trim conifer hedges to help keep their size under control. Remember, don’t cut into old wood as it will not regrow and plants will require replacing.

● Summer prune wisteria by cutting back the long whippy shoots to within five or six buds from the main stem. This will help to encourage the formation of flower buds for next year.

● Divide rhizomatous irises once the flowers are over. After several years, they tend to lose their vigour and benefit from being divided. This can be done by lifting the clump carefully with a fork and separating the younger pieces with a sharp knife. Any older pieces can be thrown away. Cut off the faded leaves and replant in groups of three, five or more, but remember not to plant them too deeply.

● Plant autumn-flowering bulbs, including Nerines and some species of crocus.

● Cut lavender and other ever-lasting flowers, for drying. This should be done just as the flowers start to open. Cut low down to get the full length of the stem. Tie the flowers in small bunches and then hang them upside down in a cool, well-ventilated place that is out of direct sunlight.

● Plan ahead by collecting seeds from your favourite plants such as calendulas and poppies to ensure a fresh supply of seeds for next year.

Kitchen Garden

● Continue to harvest all crops as they mature including peas, broad beans, early potatoes, beetroot and turnip.

● Red and white currants can be harvested by snipping entire clusters of fruit from the plant. The plants can then be summer pruned by trimming back all sideshoots to three or four buds. Also remove any dead, diseased or crossing shoots.

● Harvest onions, garlic and shallots. Lift the bulbs carefully, levering them out of the ground with a fork as the leaves turn yellow but before they die back completely. If the weather is warm and dry, they can be left on the surface of the soil to dry or hung up in dry, well-ventilated conditions.

● Once you’ve harvested all your broad beans, cut down spent stems but remember to leave the roots in the soil as they release nitrogen into the soil during decomposition.

● Keep feeding your tomato, chilli, cucumber and aubergine plants each week with a well-balanced feed such as seaweed extract to encourage fruiting.

● It’s not too late to sow some vegetables for autumn harvesting, including peas, beetroot, carrot and turnips. You can also sow Swiss chard, autumn and winter salad leaves, kale and spring cabbages.

● Plant out winter brassicas that were sown in April or May. Remember to place cabbage collars at the base of the stems to prevent slugs from eating the young gorwth and cover it with a fine netting to stop the cabbage white butterfly from laying its eggs.

● Keep an eye on your tomato crops. The growing tip of outdoor cordon tomatoes should be pinched out once they have made four trusses of fruit. This will focus the plant’s energy on setting and ripening the fruit.

● Look out for tomato and potato blight, caused by a fungus-like pathogen whose spores are wind-blown and infect when conditions are wet. Symptoms include rapid browning and die back of the leaves, which should be immediately removed to reduce spread.

● Stop climbing beans when they reach the tops of their supports by pinching out the leading shoot. This will encourage more side shoots lower down the plant which should result in a higher yield.

● Thin out fruit on apples and pears now that the natural ‘June drop’ has occurred. Remove damaged or diseased fruit first, following by any that are particularly small. Leave one fruit every 10cm apart.

● Remove old foliage from strawberry plants after the last fruits have been picked. The quickest way to do this is using shears to remove all existing foliage; new leaves will begin to grow over the next few weeks. Straw mulches or similar can also be removed.

Other Jobs

● Thankfully a little more rain is predicted over the coming weeks. Nevertheless, continue to use water wisely in your garden. Prioritise newly establishing trees, shrubs and perennials that are still developing their root systems.

● Remember to keep the greenhouse shaded and well-ventilated in hot weather. Damp down the floor in the morning to help with heat and humidity.

● While everything is in bloom, take notes or photographs to remind you which combinations of plants and colours have worked well this year and those which you may wish to change come autumn or spring.

● In the warm and often moist weather that comes with July, pests and diseases can multiply rapidly, particularly greenfly and blackfly. By increasing the diversity of plants in your garden, you will attract a broad range of beneficial insects that will help to control aphid populations. For particularly bad infestations, there are biological controls now widely available.

● When mowing your lawn, remember to mow less often and raise the blades during dry periods. This leaves the grass with more leaf surface area to help it cope in the heat. Your lawn may be looking a little tired and brown, but the grass will regenerate easily when the weather cools so resist the temptation to water it, unless it is still establishing.

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