As I write this the weather is generally wet and, for ‘flaming’ June, fairly cold. Having passed the longest day, for me, a certain panic sets in that we’re not going to get a ‘proper’ summer this year but, from past experience, this is pretty par for the course. July has the potential to get properly hot and dry, with the associated problem of death by drought, so at least cool, damp, conditions keeps everything green and lush—though it plays havoc with getting a decent tan.
With increased concern about conserving water it makes sense to install as many butts and water storage devices as possible. Watering from butts can be problematical if the tap only runs at a trickle, or if the butt is a long way from your thirsty plants. Small, electrical, pumps, specially designed for the job, could be the answer as they make using stored water less of a chore by allowing you to use a hosepipe, instead of carrying watering cans, to transport stored water to where it’s needed.
Plants are well aware that we have passed the longest day of the year and this switches some of them into a different growth mode. Rapid early growth may slow down and begin to ‘harden’; early summer flowerers will concentrate on setting seed and preparing to die down; late summer flowering plants will switch from growing to start blooming. As with most growth reactions in the plant kingdom any changes will happen slowly and not ‘overnight’. For the gardener the significance is that all sorts of pruning, trimming and cutting for shape can be undertaken but there’s no rush, as long as it’s done before any regrowth has time to harden off before the cold nights of autumn.
The classic example is shortening the long, whippy, growths on wisteria. Climbing and rambling roses should also be tackled. Proper ‘climbing roses’ are pruned in the winter months but the strong extension growths, which seem to have shot up out of nowhere, need to be loosely tied in before they lose their flexibility. For climbing roses tied onto wires or a frame, which is the best way to keep them under control, timely intervention is more critical. Any new shoots which have shot up under the wires, or beneath the support frame, must be very carefully extricated and tied into place on top of the supporting structure. Some will break during this extraction process, they are sappy and brittle, but it’s better to remove them completely than to allow them to continue extending beneath their support system.
On the other hand, ‘ramblers’ which have had their single flush of flowers, can be tackled fully now. Remove the flowered shoots, on an established specimen this could be the majority of the plant, keeping the strong new shoots which arise from near to the base. Tie these new, vigorous, shoots in place of the old ones you’ve removed so that they can flower their socks off next year before being sacrificed in turn. This removal and replacement process prevents rambling roses from becoming the huge, out of control, monsters which is their natural, unmanaged, state.
Regarding other garden shrubs which have finished flowering; continue with summer pruning so that any new wood, which is promoted by cutting back, will harden off in good time for the winter. Experiment with taking semi-ripe cuttings from such shrubs. The cuttings should be pencil thick, cut cleanly below a leaf node and have all but a couple of leaves removed with a sharp blade. Insert them into free draining soil in an out of the way place, water them in well and cover with a cloche or propagator lid. After a few months left completely alone, except for weeding, they’ll either have rooted or died. I’ve had particular success with making new rose plants, grown on their own roots, using this method.
Cuttings can also be taken from any semi-tender perennials, such as those in bedding schemes or containers, which should root rapidly at this time of year yielding small, rooted, cuttings to overwinter, frost-free, ready for next year. Combined with recycling the parent plants, year after year in the case of pelargoniums, it’s possible to reduce the annual need for new bedding plants to a minimum, with the advantage that any overwintered plants will be more advanced than any grown from seed yourself or those bought as tiny plug plants from the garden centre.
Some border perennials which flowered in June can now be cut back and fed to see if you can get a second flush of flowers. Delphiniums often respond well to this treatment. Also it’s worth tidying up Mediterranean type sub-shrubs and herbs (lavender, thyme, origanum, Convolvulus cneorum etc.) to remove faded flowers and to keep them small and bushy. Topiary specimens should be carefully reshaped, using secateurs for large leaved types, such as bay, so that they get a chance to reclothe before the ravages of autumn and winter weather.
General maintenance carries on with, perhaps, even more to keep on top of. Lots of dead-heading, watering, feeding plants in containers, grass mowing, weed removing, pest controlling—you know the score. Although there are still weeks and weeks to go before the slide into autumn and winter, you need to at least think about ordering spring flowering bulbs before the memory of this year’s display has faded. While you’re leafing through the catalogues you’ll come across plenty of autumn flowering bulbs, colchicums and the like, which can be bought now and planted out, or potted up, to flower in a month or two.
For me the whole point of gardening is that it’s ongoing. The garden is never ‘finished’, be it 1 year, 10 years, or centuries old, there are always ways of adding more layers / starting again / revamping an area. July is as good a month as any to take a look at your garden with an eye on whether it’s performing in the way you want it to. Gardens change and evolve over time, as do their owners, so checking, every now and again, that you’re happy in your horticultural relationship is healthy for both of you!