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Saturday, June 15, 2024
GardeningJuly in the garden

July in the garden

I know it can’t be true, it’s merely a coincidence, but having promoted water saving last month it seems to have done nothing but rain ever since. Having had a relatively dry summer, last year, it is easy to forget that, in reality, wet weather in June is pretty standard for the UK. With any luck July will be sunnier, warmer and drier to make up for it.
At least the plentiful rainfall will have saved you a lot of time that might otherwise have been spent watering. The heavy downpours, together with periods of more steady rain, resulted in even my containers remaining reassuringly moist. I normally advocate watering containers, even when other areas of the garden survive with natural rainfall, because light rain and the odd shower are not enough to keep the compost in pots and containers sufficiently wet in the summer.
Having said that, rain does not contain any of the nutrients which plants, growing in finite volumes of compost, require. Therefore maintaining your usual regime of liquid feeding is important. In fact, it may be more vital because heavy rain leaches out many nutrients present in fresh potting compost so replacing the lost nutrients, with supplementary feeding, is a good idea.
Now that we have passed the longest day of the year the rapid early plant growth slows down and early summer flowerers will switch to setting seed instead. Plants that flower in late summer will, thanks to shortening days affecting the ratios of the various growth hormones, change from vegetative growth to the development of mature flowers. These changes are gradual so, as a gardener, you don’t have to plunge into sudden action, intervening in a mad panic, but it does signal a slight shift in the tasks required.
The classic example is shortening the long, whippy, growths on wisteria. Climbing and rambling roses should also be tackled. Proper ‘climbers’ are pruned in the winter months but the nice extension growths, which seem to have shot up out of nowhere, need to be loosely tied in before they lose their flexibility. On the other hand, ‘ramblers’, which have had their single flush of flowers, can be tackled now. You need to prune out the shoots which have finished flowering while keeping the strong, new, shoots which have arisen from near to the base. These shoots will still be soft and flexible, but easily damaged, so tie them in to replace the old shoots that have been removed.
The same change in hormone levels and proportions, responding to day length amongst other things, makes ‘high summer’ the most propitious time to take cuttings of many shrubs and tender perennials. I use the same technique for practically everything in the garden. Generally I take non-flowering shoots, thick enough to withstand pushing into loose compost, and trim them up so that they are roughly finger length. Remove all foliage save a couple of leaves at the shoot tip. If the specimen has relatively large, soft, leaves then, using a sharp knife, reduce the size of the leaves at the tip. Trim up the cutting so that the base is cleanly cut, under the lowest leaf joint, with no ‘spare’ stem, or damaged material, below this last joint. It’s important to use a very sharp knife so that it cleanly slices, rather than crushes, the plant material. Clean cuts and undamaged cells are key to maximising the likelihood of the cutting rooting rather than rotting.
Insert the cuttings into moist, ‘open’, compost. ‘Open’ refers to a compost which has a high proportion of drainage material incorporated to increase the size of the air pockets within its structure. Air is just as important as water for healthy root growth so, when the name of the game is to get the cutting to produce roots, it is vital for a cuttings compost. I get the best results from using a multi-purpose compost with the addition of at least 50% grit / perlite. Once mixed this compost would have been lightly firmed into the pot, not rammed hard, which again helps to ensure that there is still plenty of air left in it.
The cuttings are inserted around the outside of the pot, where gas exchange with the atmosphere is at its greatest, and water in well with a fine rose. To maintain a humid atmosphere place a polythene bag over the whole ensemble and tie at the top. A length of cane pushed into the centre of the pot keeps the bag off the cuttings and gives you something to tie against. Tender perennials should root readily, under their own steam, but hormone rooting powder may assist in slower rooting specimens and can guard against rotting off as it also contains a fungicide. Place somewhere protected, such as a light windowsill, but not somewhere where they will roast in the noonday sun.
General maintenance carries on with, perhaps, even more to keep on top of. Lots of dead-heading, watering and feeding of plants in containers. Regular grass mowing (I’m very lax at this!) plus weed and pest removal. Keeping on top of the ‘refereeing’ side of horticulture is the main aim at this point. Any plant which is being too boisterous, threatening to swamp its border mates, either needs to be cut back, early flowering herbaceous perennials generally bounce back from this, or propped up, deploying hazel hurdles / emergency pea-sticking, to keep them within bounds.
Gardening is, after all, the gentle art of manipulating nature. These days it is possible to be a lot more relaxed about the degree of wildness permitted within even a relatively formal garden. According to the ‘ancient rules of garden making’; any area of garden immediately next to the house should be regimented, controlled, and largely artificial—epitomised by the ‘rose garden with clipped box edging’—a style which has largely disappeared these days.
The further from the house you ventured, the more ‘wild’ the garden was allowed to become. Domestic gardens are, by their very nature, smaller, less grand, and the trend towards wildlife gardening means that the entire garden can have the same planting style. If anything this blurred line demands your skilful intervention more than ever. Your input is all that is preventing ‘nature perfected’ from descending into ‘nature untamed’. Untamed wilderness is not a garden!

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