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Thursday, July 18, 2024
GardeningAugust in the Garden

August in the Garden

In the summer of ’76 I had yet to progress from growing cacti to ‘proper’ gardening. By some strange alignment in the heavens, a few weeks ago, I acquired a collection of mature cacti in a chance encounter.

Having soaked them all in ‘Provado’, to rid them of their (almost mandatory) mealy bug infestation, the hot weather has allowed them to luxuriate outside, sunbathing against a sunny wall. As long as they get plenty of sun, to dry them out afterwards, even the occasional downpour won’t do them any harm. Cacti and succulents need to be kept dry during cold, gloomy, weather but, while they are actively growing in the summer, a degree of watering is required.

If writing about cacti hasn’t initiated an end to the current dry spell, then nothing will.

Without wanting to put a complete ‘damper’ on things; I’d certainly like to see some rain, if only to ensure that my herbaceous perennials stand some chance of staying alive until the autumn. On the watering front: I never irrigate lawns; I try not to water the beds and borders (except where the plants are newly planted); I hand-water my plants in pots and containers or else, even in a wetter summer, they’d die.

Remember—if you are having to keep annuals, tender perennials and bedding plants well-watered, then you will also have to add a balanced fertiliser to the water on a fortnightly, possibly weekly basis. Together with the unavoidable need to dead-head, feeding is important if they are to keep on growing and flowering right up until the first frosts.

Hot, dry, conditions favour weeds in their unquenchable desire to flower / set seed in as short a time as possible. Abundant water slows the actual ‘running to seed’ process, buying you a bit of time, but as soon as there’s a dry spell weeds rapidly flower, get pollinated and set seed before you know it. The trick is to nip in and remove them before they flower. If it’s an annual weed, not bearing seed, it can be added to the compost heap which is at its most active, and therefore hottest, during the summer months.

It is not recommended to apply chemical weed killers during drought conditions because they rely on the weeds being ‘in active growth’ to work. Hopefully, by this time of the year, weeds should be under control so holding off from a chemical attack, if you allow yourself the luxury in the first place, need not be too much of a bind. There is still bound to be time, at some point this month or next, to deal a blow to persistent weeds in order that they do not get a chance to overwinter.

The major task for me to start this month is the annual trimming of yew hedges. By this point in the year they have made a lot of soft ‘extension’ growth and this must be removed if the hedge is to remain a nice tight shape and within bounds. Newly planted yew hedges need to be trimmed, to encourage a dense, solid, hedge, but less drastically. Some new growth needs to be left in order that they grow taller / broader until they reach the planned height and width.

Once yew hedges have reached the desired size then they respond well to being trimmed back to the same height and shape each year. A minimal amount of new growth can be left, literally just a fraction of an inch, but otherwise a single trim around now is all they need. Eventually they will expand to the point where a drastic chop back is necessary but then they really come into their own because, rarely amongst conifers, they retain the ability to sprout afresh from even the oldest, brownest, wood.

I did have to chop back a yew ‘cone’, at the height of our recent spell of hot, sunny, weather, despite knowing that it would end up looking pretty poorly for a while. It was so badly overgrown, untrimmed for at least three years, that whenever it was cut back it would look unsightly for a while. The strong sun, on leaves which had not been subjected to unfiltered light for years, led to the inevitable scorching of the newly exposed foliage.

When trimming smaller specimens, especially if you are forced to trim box bushes during sunny weather, covering them immediately afterwards with sacking, or hessian, can reduce this scorching effect. It is unsightly but I know that the yew will produce new leaves, hopefully before winter is upon us, so living with the sun damage, temporarily, is tolerable.

On the plus side, all this sun has brought on the later summer stalwarts like never before. All the Compositae (daisy flowered) border perennials, such as the asters, heleniums, Helianthus, Inula and rudbeckias, which come into their own after the longest day, are responding to the heat and sunshine with gusto. Many are already coming into flower, much earlier than in a colder, wetter, summer, which is fine as long as a ‘weather eye’ is kept on them in the event that they need cutting back, to encourage a second flush of flowers, when they threaten to run to seed too soon.

Not all border perennials respond to being cut back, after flowering, by producing a second flush of flowers but it’s a good trick that’s always worth trying. You may be able to increase your chances of success by giving them a good soak, applying multiple cans of water, after chopping off the spent blooms. As a final ‘insurance policy’, watering with the same kind of liquid feed that you apply to annuals and bedding plants, does no harm and may be just what a herbaceous perennial requires to produce a fresh flush of flowers rather than begin to die back.

Anything fresh is good, especially now, when the heat and dust threatens to take the shine off even the most well stocked garden.

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