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 savour the sights and sounds of summer, and enjoy 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 your plant maintains 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 on your fruit (Malus domestica and Pyrus) trees now: remove any diseased, damaged, misshapen or unusually small fruits first, then take a deep breath and continue until the remaining fruit are spaced at least 10cm apart, as a minimum.  It seems harsh, I know, but the act of thinning your fruit will result in bigger, juicer, and tastier fruits, which will ripen evenly.  Thinning will also prevent the fruit from placing undue strain on branches, which might be overloaded by the weight of their developing fruit.  It’s not unusual for apple and pear tree branches to break under the weight of their harvest.  Naturally, we want to avoid placing too much strain on the trees; it’s worth remembering that after thinning, some branches may still require additional support – so do keep an eye on your plants.  Thinning the fruit now will also help to prevent 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.  Alternatively, pot up and mulch your plants with a specially designed tomato compost.  Continue removing the side-shoots on tomato plants grown as cordons; these plants have one central stem (they’re 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.  Discard the older, less vigorous rhizomes from the centre of the plant and select young, healthy rhizomes to keep and grow on.  Remove these rhizomes using a knife and replant them carefully, ensuring that the knobbly rhizome shows just above the soil.  When you’re choosing a site to plant your Iris germanica rhizomes, find a sunny spot, where the plants will be warmed by the sun’s rays.  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 the plant 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.  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 folks 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 before you begin.  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 a scythe if you prefer) first, then progress to using a mower, with the blades on a high setting.  Reduce the height of your mower’s blades for subsequent cuts.

Spring flowering meadows 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 onto the soil below.  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, as bright 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, thereby protecting the curd without damaging the leaves.

Early in the morning, harvest thyme, tarragon, hyssop, lavender, and other herbs 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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