Garden Advice for Mid-July to Mid-August

The abundance of flowers, fruit and scent in the garden makes this time of year feel rather decadent.  Enjoy the sights and sounds of summer, and enjoy the fruits of your labour in the garden, or at your allotment this month.

It’s important to prune figs now, to let in more light and allow for a better harvest of delicious figs next year.  The latex figs readily produce is an irritant, so it’s advisable to wear gloves whilst pruning or tending to your plants, and then wash your hands thoroughly once you’ve finished.  So with your gloves on, start from the bottom of the plant and work upwards – this way you will avoid the fig’s latex dripping onto you.  Look along the stems of all your new shoots, and count five or six leaves from the base of the stem, then trim from the fifth or six leaf onwards.  This may leave you just cutting off a tiny snippet of shoot, but trust me it makes a real difference to your plant, and to your harvest next year.

Figs naturally try to produce another crop of figs now, these immature figs sadly will not ripen in our British climate, however much we want them to.  Instead we are hoping to see the tiniest of embryonic buds which are now forming, these tiny buds will survive the winter on the branches as very tiny buds, and will continue growing in spring, eventually ripening next summer.  Pruning now dissuades the fig from producing more figs that will not ripen, and encourages the production of new side shoots, which will produce more tiny embryonic buds that will hopefully survive the winter, and grow on and ripen next year.

Thin apples and pears now.  First remove any diseased, damaged, misshapen or unusually small fruits, then take a deep breath and continue until the remainder are spaced at least 10cm apart at the minimum.  It seems harsh, I know, but thinning will result in bigger, juicer, and better fruits, which will ripen evenly.  Thinning also prevents placing undue strain on branches, which can often be overloaded with the weight of the fruit and can even break – some branches may require support even after thinning.  Thinning also helps prevent against biennial bearing – when trees produce a good harvest one year, but the following year little or no fruit is produced.

It’s also the time to summer prune pears, to let in extra light to ripen the fruit.  Ensure you completely remove any upright, vigorous shoots.

Regularly feed tomatoes with a specially formulated tomato fertiliser, and keep removing side-shoots on plants grown as cordons with one central stem (also known as indeterminate plants).  Keep tomato plants well watered, but never waterlogged.

It’s worth noting that shop bought tomatoes may contain fruit which although perfectly safe to eat, may have suffered with Pepino mosaic virus or other viruses, which if transmitted to your own home-grown tomatoes could reduce your harvest by half.  So it’s worth taking care, and thoroughly washing your hands before tending to your tomatoes just in case you’ve come into contact with an unwanted virus.  If any of your plants are showing virus like symptoms, such as stunted growth, distortion of the leaves,or the  leaves are showing a light green colour that may resemble a mosaic type pattern, it’s worth placing your dubious looking plants in quarantine, and taking care to avoid spreading any infection.

It’s worth shading summer cauliflowers now, the sunlight can scorch the curds or encourage them to open, which you don’t want.  Often people snap a large cauliflower leaf to cover the curd, but this is detrimental to the cauliflower plant, as the leaf provides food for the cauliflower plant through photosynthesis.  It’s far better to loosely tie some of the leaves over the curd, protecting the curd from sunlight without damaging the leaves.

Prune Wisteria.  After flowering cut back the long whippy green shoots – the current year’s growth – to five or six leaf joints.  Pruning now will ensure you keep a tidy shape, preventing the wisteria getting itself into a messy tangle, as well as encouraging flower bud formation for next year.

If you’ve sown a spring-flowering meadow, now is the ideal time to start mowing it.  Firstly check over the area for any hedgehogs or other nocturnal animals who may be nesting in the long grass.  Strimmers are the enemy of hedgehogs, many folk inadvertently injure or kill hedgehogs using a strimmer, so it’s really important to thoroughly check the area you’re going to strim or cut first.  Hedgehog nests are nearly impossible to spot, so do take care and be thorough with your checks.

You may wish to start cutting the meadow using a strimmer, or scythe if you prefer first, then progress to using a mower with the blades on a high setting, reducing them for subsequent cuts. This type of meadow can continue to be mown for the rest of the summer. It’s a good idea to leave the first cuttings in situ for a few days, so that the seeds can drop from any remaining seed pods and be ready for next year.  Do remember to gather and remove the cuttings after a few days though, as you don’t want the cuttings to break down and contribute to the fertility of the soil.

Complete planting of Brussels sprouts, cabbages and cauliflower as soon as possible.  Sow endive, kohl rabi, Florence fennel, lettuce, onions, peas, mangetout, radish, and turnip.

Plant shallots.

Plant Amaryllis, autumn flowering Crocus, Colchicum, hardy Cyclamen, and Stenbergia.

Water hanging baskets daily and feed regularly.  Net ponds to prevent leaves falling in.

Harvest thyme, tarragon, hyssop, lavender and other herbs in the morning for drying.  Tie in bunches and hang upside down in a well-ventilated, dark or shaded place.  Herbs can also be chopped and frozen in ice-cube trays.

Remember to leave water out for birds, hedgehogs, and other wildlife in dry spells.

The article was first published in the mid-July 2014 edition of The Surrey and Hants News.

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