June in the Garden

I can’t believe we’re getting on for almost half way through the year—time really does fly in the garden. Although we had a relatively mild winter, with hardly a frost, the heavy rain in early spring, which made the waterlogged soil ‘out of bounds’, followed by some unusually cold nights, well into May, have combined to mean that I am quite behind with things. Gardening tasks concertina together as soon as the conditions become reliably warm and dry, which is what is happening just about now.

Bedding plants which were planted out last month, once the risk of frost had become negligible, will be growing rapidly and need to be checked for any pests or diseases so that they can be stopped in their tracks. New foliage, on any plant that is putting on rapid growth, is particularly attractive to would-be attackers so your vigilance pays dividends.

Assuming you used new compost, or added fertiliser when your bedding was planted out, then extra feeding will not be required for a good few weeks yet. Feeding, on top of their natural propensity to put on soft growth at this time, could make them even more prone to pests and diseases. Later in the summer, when the roots have expanded as far as they can, it is important to water with a liquid fertiliser to keep floral displays going for as long as possible. At this early they won’t have exhausted the nutrients available to their roots, as the roots are still able to grow out into unexplored compost to find their own sustenance.

If you notice any faded flowers, on spring flowering shrubs, prune out the boughs that have bloomed and to generally tidy up or reshape the specimen. Take a hard look at it and decide whether it’s the optimum size, too large or still has room to fill out. Where shrubs are concerned, just ‘standing still’ requires some input from you. Removing flowered stems and thinning out of the oldest ones each year, at the very least. If it’s too large then a more brutal chop back, accompanied by a feed and mulch, is in order. Shrubs that are still establishing may only need light titivating, to coax them into a pleasing shape, and get them used to the idea that you, the gardener, is the boss!

As well as regularly cutting the lawn, now that it is growing fast, it’s also a good time to use a proprietary selective weed killer, if it’s becoming less grass and more weed. On very large lawns a knapsack sprayer is the most efficient way of applying it. Choose a dry day with no wind because any spray drift onto garden plants can affect their growth even if it doesn’t kill them outright. Follow the instructions on your chosen product because there is usually specific advice regarding cutting the grass before and after application and what you can and can’t do with the clippings.

If you are an organic gardener I really can’t think of any effective way to remove unwanted weeds from a lawn. Hand weeding will work, when the proportion of weed to grass is low, but is too time consuming once the unwanted plants are beginning to take over. Many lawn weeds, especially the low spreading ones like clover and buttercup, are engineered to grow back, at twice the rate, from any small piece left behind after you’ve painstakingly forked out all the big bits. Dandelions are famously deeply tap-rooted and, however hard you try, it’s virtually impossible to remove every one with the long root intact. Of course, and it’s a brilliant adaptation to survival, a rosette of numerous smaller dandelions will sprout from every root left in the lawn and, to add insult to injury, their roots will start even deeper down and will be even more difficult to weed out. The answer, of course, is to learn to love the ‘mixed species’, tapestry effect, lawn while doing everything you can to give the grass a chance by regular mowing. This will, at least, stop many of the invading lawn interlopers from flowering and setting seed. It’s just a shame that most of them spread by vegetative means which won’t be controlled by mowing alone!

On smaller lawns, and bigger ones if you don’t have a knapsack sprayer, a watering can with a fine sprinkler bar (better than a ‘rose’) does the same job and is less susceptible to spray drift. To negate any inaccuracy in your application it’s wise to apply the product at twice the recommended dilution (i.e. half the strength) but apply it twice. First apply it walking one way, e.g. up and down the lawn, then do it again walking at ninety degrees to your first application, i.e. from side to side (or vice versa). I hope that makes some sort of sense…

To make a change, from summer maintenance tasks, why not sow some clumps of hardy annuals into beds and borders? In theory it’s getting a bit late to sow hardy annuals but, as with so many things in gardening, it may mean a late display but there’s still time for them to germinate, grow and flower before frosts threaten. One of my greatest unexpected pleasures this year, probably due to the largely frost-free winter, is the number of plants, sown as hardy annuals in 2015, which have either come through the winter or have self-sown when I didn’t expect them to. The most startling of these has proved to be a charming cultivated cousin of our native ‘Sweet Woodruff’.

A ‘Google’ search reveals its full name to be Asperula azurea setosa ‘Blue Mist’ – but my ‘Unwins’ seed packet sticks to “Asperula ‘Blue Mist’”—less of a mouthful. Anyway, it has masses of lovely, blue, spidery, flowers (the native woodruff has white) and, at only ankle high, packs a punch beyond its size.

The problem with June is that there is so much in bloom that it’s impossible to mention everything. Best you get out there, to the numerous gardens that are open right now, and get inspired anew. I really should have mentioned roses at some point, they are blooming marvellous, but ‘better late than never’ I guess. Fingers crossed for some decent garden visiting weather 😉