Gardening Advice for Mid-July to Mid-August

The abundance of flowers, fruit and scent makes this time of year feel rather decadent.  Make time to enjoy the sights and sounds of summer, as well as enjoying the fruits of your labour in the garden this month.

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.

Thin apples and pears now: remove any diseased, damaged, misshapen or unusually small fruits first, 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 ripen evenly.  Thinning also prevents the fruit 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.

If your Iris germanica, (bearded garden irises) are getting congested or overcrowded, lift and divide them now.  When your Irises have finished flowering, lift them with a fork, discarding the older, less vigorous rhizomes from the centre of the plant.  Select young, healthy rhizomes to keep and grow on, and remove them using a knife and replant them carefully, ensuring that the rhizome shows just above the soil.  It’s advisable to trim the Irises leaves back to 20 cm (8 inches) this will help the newly-planted rhizome be more stable and enable it to root more readily.  Ensure the Irises have sufficient water whilst they are establishing.

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 even if you’re looking for them, 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.

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, it’s better to loosely tie the leaves over the curd, protecting the curd without damaging the leaves.

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.

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

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.

Remember to leave water out for birds, hedgehogs, and other wildlife in dry spells, a shallow bowl of water left at ground level is ideal.

This article was first published in the mid-July 2013 edition of The Surrey and Hants News.

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