July & August Gardening Tips from Chelsea Flower Show Medal-Winner Sonia Wright

August in the Garden

Watering

With August proving to be one of the warmest for a few years, it is important to prioritise the watering requirements for your garden. Firstly forget the lawn – it will bounce back very fast as soon as we have had a decent session of rainfall, although it will be looking rather forlorn right now. Herbaceous borders will also recover fast and make new growth before the Autumn.

The most important items for your hose or watering can are any containerised plants or hanging baskets. These will gallop through your applications of water and beg for more, transpiring litres of fluid on a hot or windy day. Make sure you water really well as it is surprising how much is needed to properly wet the compost. Don’t water little and often but ensure a really good soak and then go back and do it again. The most at-risk plants are those with large leaves which will wilt fast in hot conditions.

You should try to water in the evening cool, giving your plants an overnight spell to make the most of the water. In the vegetable garden, concentrate on the leafy spinach, lettuce and chicory, chard and radicchio. If you prepared your ground well in the spring with plenty of farmyard manure or home-made compost, your root crops and beans will be fine. Tomatoes need regular watering or they will split their fruit when watered after a dry spell. Keep removing side shoots to concentrate on fruiting growth, and feed regularly with Tomorite or a high potash feed.

If you are going away in August, prepare to chat up your neighbours well in advance, and reward them with fruit, flowers and vegetables for watering during your absence. Tell them to help themselves liberally to beans, courgettes and sweet peas, thus ensuring that they keep cropping until your return.

Seed & Bulb Ordering & Harvesting

Now is the time to order seeds of hardy annuals to sow in September. Flowers such as larkspur, cornflower, calendula, nigella and opium poppy will overwinter in a sheltered spot and be leaps and bounds ahead of seeds sown in spring. Also firm up on your bulb orders, as many are in short supply after a wet spring and first comers get the choicest varieties. Some are already sold out, according to my Dutch supplier.

It is also important to order narcissus soon, as they like to be in the ground during September, when they make their roots. Tulips are best planted in late October or November, when the soil is colder.

On a dry day, arm yourself with paper bags and a pen and walk around your garden saving seeds to sow for next year. Don’t forget the pen: you may think you will remember what those little brown capsules were, but you won’t believe me. Most seeds are not ready to harvest until the pods are brown and dry. You have to keep an eye open for some seeds, as they will disperse overnight or when you are doing something else. Sweet peas and lupins are good at this, also hellebores. Others politely hold their pods up rattling gently until you are ready for them. Some perennials are good to sow when they are ripe, and will overwinter well. Also as mentioned above, hardy annuals.

Cuttings

I am feverishly taking cuttings at the moment, ensuring that I have a good supply of pelargoniums, salvias and fuchsias for next year. Growth will have firmed up enough for quick rooting while we still have warmth, and kept fairly dry will sit quietly in a just frost-free greenhouse until you pot them up in spring. Shrub cuttings will also root during late summer – think hydrangea, deutzia, weigela, honeysuckle, cistus, hebe. I will try anything – just snip off a piece of firm growth, reduce the leaves by half and leave about an inch of bare stem with all leaf removed. Put them in water to firm up while you prepare the compost – half vermiculite, half potting compost – and insert them around the edge of your pot. Water well and put in a shady position to root. You will know when they do as they will start growing.

Do not pot up until spring, and keep under cover or in a frame over winter. I have never used rooting hormone, as most plants will strike without any extra help, and the powder/gel goes off quite quickly. Herbs will also root well now: thyme, sage, rosemary all strike well in late summer, also unflowered shoots of lavender.

Keep running the hoe through your vegetable beds, as this helps give a dust mulch to dry soil and stops any weeds germinating. The minute we have any rain there will be a rash of new green weeds appearing overnight.

Sowing

Sweet peas sown in late autumn outstrip the weaklings sown in April. Sow some parsley now in a sheltered corner. If you have some of your own seed saved this year it will come up very quickly.

Late August is a good time to sow a new lawn, much cheaper than turf.

Preparing for Frost

Stop feeding your plants at the end of August. Any supplementary food given later will encourage soft growth which will be at risk of early frosts.

Bear in mind we could even have a frost as soon as mid/late September, so plan well in advance where you are going to shelter your tender perennials, and keep taking cuttings in case you are caught out.

Happy gardening – the work never ends, but nor does the pleasure it brings.

 

July in the Garden

No time to relax for gardeners ~ everything is growing apace and needing attention to keep up the display and productivity

The most important activities in July are watering, weeding and dead-heading.

Watering & Feeding

Even if we have had rain, plants in containers are rarely wetted through, especially if there as been hot sun or wind, and the plants have abundant leaves, which leak moisture in buckets.  You must water right down to the roots, and copiously – do this when you see leaves wilting, rather than “little and often”

Plants in herbaceous borders rarely need water as their roots go deep, and lawns, even if almost brown, will always recover and it is a waste of time and water to irrigate.

Vegetables which appreciate a good watering are the leafy ones – lettuce, spinach and courgettes.  Otherwise, leave well alone.

It is important to feed containers to continue the display – tomato feed will do the job, as well as keeping your tomatoes coming until the frosts.

Weeding

This is crucial at all times.  Weeds steal water and nutrients from your crops and being much more vigorous will completely overtake your cherished flowers or vegetables. In your vegetable garden be assiduous with the hoe – it’s easier to hoe frequently while the weeds are small (choose a warm day for weed death) than battle with the fully grown ones.

Dead-heading

Most of our summer container or cutting plants are annual.  These have a death-wish:  they grow, flower, seed and die in one season, and once they have set seed they stop flowering.  So cut off any dying flowers before they set seed, and ensure that they are well-fed.  This will guarantee a continuous display until autumn.  If you want to save seed from your annuals, keep a few seed heads rather than cut.  Sweet peas are the classic sulkers: you must pick every day or cut off the faded flowers or they just stop flowering

If you want to ensure you have a continuity of vegetables from your allotment or plot, there are a few you can sow now to keep things going: carrots /spinach/spring onions/dwarf French beans/beetroot/lettuces/chicory/radicchio.

Planning Ahead

Now is the time to sow the biennials we love for Spring flowering – wallflowers, stocks, myosotis (forget-me-not)

Also the bulb catalogues will be coming through the letter-box.  Don’t delay your orders, as the most popular bulbs sell out fast.

 

If you are not too exhausted, don’t forget to make time to relax and enjoy your garden.  It is a fine and wonderful place to be in these tricky times if you are lucky enough to have one.

 

Sonia Wright 
Sonia Wright Gardens

Sonia has 25 years of propagating and growing experience and a lifelong passion for plants. She has also designed and installed major landscape projects and realised medal-winning gardens at The Chelsea Flower Show. In 2016 her Nepeta Crystal Cloud was one of the top 5 new plants at Chelsea. Sonia has also appeared on the BBC TV programme Gardeners World.

Sonia runs gardening courses and is donating a course voucher for our Garden Photo Prize Draw which you can enter by sending in photos of your garden by 30 August.

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