July in the Garden – 2014

I almost daren’t mention, for fear of a jinx, that we seem to be having a pretty fair summer so far. The recent high temperatures and dry patch has highlighted certain week spots in my gardening habits. I didn’t get around to repotting a lot of the things that I should have, in the spring, and it’s those which suddenly flag and wilt as soon as water loss exceeds supply i.e. ‘drought conditions’.

It’s very hard to re-wet a pot or container once it’s completely dried out. Pouring water into the top tends to lead to it either flooding out over the rim, without soaking into the compost, or, especially if the compost is ‘soil-less’, it runs straight through using the gap left where the compost has shrunk away from the sides of the container. For inattentive waterers, like me, it’s worth keeping a large vessel (an old water tank, rescued from the dump, is my soak of choice) somewhere near the outside tap / rainwater barrel which can be deep-filled with water. A dried out plant should be plunged into the water, completely submerged, and only removed once all signs of air bubbling out have ceased. Only then can you be sure that the compost is fully re-wetted.

The moral of that story is to water on a regular basis whether you think they need it or not. That way the compost never gets a chance to completely dry out and you will be saved the annoyance of emergency submersion. From a horticultural point, it’s better as allowing a plant to reach the point of wilting will stress it and make it more susceptible to pests and diseases which can more easily attack a drought weakened specimen. Lack of water will also stunt growth and reduce its flowering / cropping potential.
As mentioned earlier in the year, the very wet winter will have washed a lot of nutrients out of the soil so feeding is more important this season than ever. Plants growing in anything where they have a finite amount of soil available to them  (i.e. pots and containers) are totally reliant on you adding a balanced feed to the water on a regular basis—see ‘June in the Garden’.  Switch to a high phosphate formula (look for those aimed at getting bigger crops of tomatoes) later on this month when flowering needs to be promoted rather than leafy growth.

July can be a lean time in the herbaceous border as dramatic high summer flowers ‘go over’, delphiniums spring to mind here, and the late summer performers have yet to get into their stride. Daylilies, Hemerocallis, straddle this gap as many cultivars start flowering in June, carrying on for a number of weeks, whilst others don’t really get going until July. The later varieties have the added advantage of largely missing the attentions of the ‘Hemerocallis Gall Midge’—a pest which only has one generation per year but which can completely wipe out every flower bud during May and June.

If you spot short, dumpy, swollen and non-opening buds on your daylilies then pick them off and burn them, or chuck them into the waste bin, as they will contain the tiny larvae of the adult midges. If you prevent them from falling onto the ground, where the maggots pupate and wait to re-infest the daylilies next spring, then you can break the cycle of infection and reduce the damage year-on-year. Chemical control is tricky and no preparation is currently licensed specifically for the purpose.

I’d like to say that my hardy annuals were romping away and providing me with armfuls of cut flowers. Some, the easiest ones, are looking promising (Nigella, clary, stocks and Gypsophila) plus the sweet peas are catching up despite a very late start. Sadly many of my subsequent sowings failed due to my own inept watering regime. My great trouble, in raising stuff from seed, is simply not being around all the time and it only takes one hot day for a whole batch to dry out and every tiny seedling shrivel to nought. What with that and hoards of grazing mice, I assume that’s what ate the Eschscholzia, and my ‘cut flowers from seed’ initiative may take another year to really take off; I must learn from my mistakes!

One success, which should yield flowers for weeks to come, is my penstemon bed which I cut back severely, in desperation, a few weeks ago as I never got around to it last year. This delayed the flowering a bit but it’s done the trick in rejuvenating some woody old specimens. If you cut back herbaceous plants which have finished flowering, perennial geraniums are the usual candidates, many will have a second flush of flowers or, at least, produce fresh new foliage to see them through until the autumn. If the weather is dry, when you chop them back, give them a good soaking with a can of water, fortified with liquid feed, to encourage strong regrowth.

This month there is mostly just ‘ticking over’ maintenance to get on with plus the odd special task such as reducing the long growth on wisteria. In fact generally trimming back any sort of plant which is threatening to collapse all over the place, or break free of its moorings, seldom does any harm at this time of year. The worst you can do is reduce some of the flowering potential for next year but, in most cases, reducing foliage now that the main growing period is over does more good than harm. Dead-heading of bedding and container plants is a form of pruning and is essential to keep them flowering right up until the frosts.

I’m keeping everything crossed that the current fair weather sets the trend for the rest of the summer—enjoy 🙂