August. Time to to bathe in the lazy late Summer sun, taking in all the colour the garden is radiating at this bountiful time of year, and congratulating yourself for the hard work earlier in the season that has paid off ! Even if not everything has gone to plan, small victories and pleasant surprises are always to be had when looking around the garden in late Summer. August has its healing ways, and its warmth, occasional outbursts of rain, and abundant light, are much welcomed by the garden, and us gardeners.
Here are some of this months top jobs..
Maintain & Protect…
Now is a great time to protect fruiting crops in the garden from pesky pests, so make sure that berries are netted with a non plastic or flexible mesh ( so birds are not trapped) , and if you’re growing sweetcorn, try sticking an old plastic bottle top on the end, to stop them from being nibbled. You may notice that your dahlias are being targeted by a mystery foe- the tell tale jagged bite marks from leaves are a sign of earwigs, who feast on the plant. Why not capture the bugs in upturned flower pots, stuffed with straw on sticks, next to the plant, to trap them for release outside of the garden. Earwigs are beneficial insects, as they also enjoy eating aphids and other pests, so try not to harm them. Talking of dahlias- if the flower heads look as though they are putting strain on the stalk, stake them with a large cane to make sure their opulence is shown off at its best and no damage occurs.
Be sure to keep bird baths, ponds and water features topped up in warm weather- the amphibians and birds will really thank you for it, as they need habitat now more than ever, and are so helpful around the garden, eating slugs, snails and other unwanted insects. Also be sure to thin oxygenating plants that may have gone slightly wild, removing blanket weed as necessary for optimum pond health.
Take time to look around the garden, watching for signs of pests and diseases, such as mildew ( a white powdery coating on stems and leaves). A good organic way to combat this, plus many other infestations, is with Neem oil. Simply warm the bottle of oil under a hot tap, pouring 2 teaspoons into a litre spray bottle of water, and apply to the entire plant. It has strong anti fungal properties and stops aphids and plant sapping pests from being able to eat. Results are almost immediate, but remember to reapply after wet weather. Make sure any diseased leaves are tidied up from under plants in pots, and burnt on the bonfire- this prevents the further spread of disease. It’s a great idea to apply nematodes to the soil now to stop vine weevil larvae infestation- target plants that are prone to attack from the blighters, such as primula, heuchera and sedum.
Be sure to damp down the greenhouse in hot weather, and throughly water containers if you’re going away on holiday. A well watered pot or shrub can manage for 14 days when throughly watered, but it may be worth moving containers of non drought tolerant plants to a more shady spot ( or getting the neighbours to pop round – in exchange for a nice bottle of something…) Also, keep on top of watering camellias and rhododendrons during dry spells, as this will lead to good bud formation.
Prune and cut back…
Most rambling roses flower once in Summer, and should be pruned after they have flowered, shortening flowered side shoots by two thirds and thinning out one in three of the oldest stems at the base, and tying in the new shoots.
Cut established perennial wildflower meadows now, leaving the clippings on the ground for the plants to spread their seed and wildlife to seek shelter. The more wildlife in our gardens, the better.
Hedges can now have their final trim before they stop growing and enter dormancy, and also perennials can be cut back that may have collapsed onto other plants, blocking light and air. This often happens as a result of heavy rain showers, and by doing so you will keep the border healthy, and give the smaller plants a chance to flower. Now is the time to complete summer pruning of wisteria, taking off all the whipped side shoots to five or six buds from the main stem. This will encourage the plant to produce flower buds for next years blooms.
By trimming lavender now, you will keep the plants vigorous and healthy. Do this by removing old flower spikes and about 2.5cm of leafy growth at the tips of the shoots. Be sure to keep deadheading spent rose flower heads, and snip dead pelargonium flowers right back to the stem to keep them looking tidy, and to encourage new flowers. All summer flowering shrubs should also be cut back directly after they have finished blooming.
It may not seem to time to be pruning apples and pears, but if you have espalier fruit or trees grown as restricted forms, you will need to shorten new shoots (laterals) longer than 20cm to three leaves from their base, and those that are growing from side shoots, to one leaf above. This ensures there is enough light for fruit to ripen and increases the chances of a great crop next year.
Increase your stock…
Why not increase the amount of plants in your garden…for free! Have you tried taking cuttings from shrubs? Almost all of the popular garden shrubs we grow, that give structure to our gardens, and be increased by taking these cuttings. Why not try buddleja, berberis, hebes, lavenders and viburnums. Take a cutting just below a lead node (where growth hormones are made) on a non flowering shoot that is starting to turn woody. Take off all leaves apart from the top two, and make a scratch at the bottom near the leaf node. Dip in rooting hormone, and place in a mixture of perlite and seed sowing (low nutrient) compost. Water well and cover with a clear plastic bag or cloche to trap moisture. Be patient- it takes a while for cutting to root, but placed in a greenhouse or warm, light location, they should have rooted well before Christmas, and make wonderful gifts.
Now is the perfect time to take pelargonium and fuschia cuttings, as well as alpines such as Phlox douglasii– just be sure to use a medium with lots of grit for these plants, who appreciate excellent drainage.
Divide your favourite perennials this month, and also bearded iris and other rhiztomatous irises, which stops congestion and keeps the plants healthy. A link to the RHS guide on dividing these can be found here…
Sow & Harvest…
Have a an absolutely beautiful bloom you would love to see more of next year? Why not let some seed heads of your favourite plants dry out, and store in a brown paper bag for sowing next year. Sweet peas, poppies and phlox can all be harvested for more brilliant plants that are completely free. Pretty much everything can be dried and saved, they make wonderful gifts and wedding favours- just check on individual sowing requirements, some such as sweet peas, foxgloves and hollyhocks can be started in Autumn this year.
Keep harvesting berries, and summer squash to keep up production, and be sure to feed crops that are still in flower, such as cucumber or aubergine. Harvest onions when the foliage has collapsed, and make sure they are dry before storing. Perhaps leave them on top of the soil on a guaranteed sunny day, or in the greenhouse for a week of so. Pick French and runner beans now for fresh eating- or leave to ripen in the pod if you are looking for dried beans or seed for next year.
Still to be sown this month; beetroot which will be ready for October, salad, lambs lettuce, spinach, pak choi and Swiss chard, for over wintering.