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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
GardeningJuly in the Garden

July in the Garden

As a gardener it’s hard not to become obsessed with the weather seeing as it has a huge bearing on everything that goes on in your garden and how much you can enjoy it. The availability of pretty accurate weather forecasting apps, on phones and computers, is a major boon. Knowing how likely it is to rain, both on an hour-to-hour basis and looking many days ahead, greatly aids the planning of gardening activities and scheduling quality time enjoying your own gardening efforts and being inspired by visiting other people’s gardens.
Having said that, there is a certain conflict, often mentioned here, whereby hot and sunny weather may be great for making the most of your garden but it is only tolerable if there is at least some rainfall in order to prevent dry periods turning into drought conditions. From an environmental point of view having to implement a lot of artificial irrigation is not a sustainable solution. Planting plants that are able to cope with your soil, the amount of sun they receive and the degree of soil drainage is the best solution.
No matter how carefully planted your garden is there can still be periods in the summer when watering becomes unavoidable. It’s important to prioritise which areas of the garden may need intervention sooner rather than later; plants in pots and containers require regular watering whether it rains or not because they simply do not have access to any moisture contained in ‘normal’ garden soil and are completely reliant on you for their water needs.
Newly planted areas are next most likely to require artificial watering because the plants won’t have developed the far reaching root systems of more established plants which allows them to extract water from deeper in the ground. Well established plants rarely need watering, even in the driest of summers, because plants are pretty well evolved to cope with water shortage, in the short term, even if they do become a little stressed and look ‘parched’ until they get a good soaking. Resist the temptation to go out and sprinkle them with the hose as watering like this, where the water only penetrates an inch or two into the soil, merely encourages the plants to produce surface roots, rather than a deep, moisture seeking, root system, which makes them less able to cope with periods of drought than if you don’t water them at all.
Cultural methods that can alleviate the need to water, apart from the aforementioned ‘right plant, right place’, include the use of mulches on the soil surface. A mulch is a substance, either natural or man-made, which reduces the amount of water which is able to evaporate from the soil surface. In very hot and dry situations, where the plants chosen are those which have a high drought tolerance, adding an inch or two of gravel to the exposed soil surface, allowing the plants to grow up through it, will greatly reduce water loss from around those plants. Mulches also have the advantage of suppressing weed growth as well which is another reason to use them.
A man-made mulch, such as planting through a permeable, woven, membrane, is probably the most effective at preventing weed growth but, aesthetically, it’s difficult to use this in the average garden as the woven membrane will require another mulch on top to disguise it; gravel, stones, bark chips etc. are all possibilities. Weed suppressing fabrics are best suited to large scale shrub and tree plantings because, by their very nature, they do not lend themselves to herbaceous plantings. They constrict the ability of plants to spread and produce ever larger crowns—which is what herbaceous plants are designed to do.
Mulching using organic matter directly on the soil surface, ranging from coarse bark and wood chips down to composted green waste, relies on the thickness of the applied mulch to suppress weeds and reduce soil water loss. They have the advantage of actually improving the water holding capacity of the soil, as they break down and their organic matter is incorporated into the underlying layers, which improves the soil year on year. Your chosen organic mulch has to be ‘sterile’, weed-free, if it is to be any use as a means of reducing the need to weed. It will need to be reapplied on a regular basis, most usually in the dormant season, because it will naturally break down over time and its effectiveness dissipated—this can be a time consuming and expensive undertaking as commercially produced organic mulches are not cheap. Home produced garden compost is seldom available in great enough quantities and is also, unless composted at a high temperature, generally not sterile but full of weed seeds (unless you are scrupulous about not putting flowering weeds onto your compost heap).
At this point of the year, the longest day having been passed, essential gardening tasks revolve around maintaining some sort of balance between flowers that have gone over (and therefore require dead-heading) and those which are yet to come (these need to be kept supported, fed and watered). Routine jobs include cutting the grass, watering everything in pots, removing pests by hand as soon as they appear and trimming fast growing hedging plants. The best bit about all this titivating is that it produces a good mix of material to go onto the compost heap. This is positively humming with microbial life during warm weather and is greedy for fresh organic matter to keep it going.
Less essential tasks, which are satisfying to do if you have time, include summer pruning of shrubs which flowered before midsummer’s day (I guess this could be essential in small gardens); dividing bearded irises and continuing with taking cuttings from shrubs.
Cuttings material will be heading towards ‘semi-ripe’ at this time of year and therefore has a lower propensity to root than the ‘softwood’ material which was available earlier in the year. The advantage is that it is less susceptible to drying out or rotting off so, even though they may take longer to root, it is worth experimenting with for its more forgiving nature.
Anyway, I’m planning to take a bit of a laid-back attitude to gardening this month. Planting activities have all but come to a halt because only pot-grown specimens are safe to plant during high summer, assuming they can be kept continuously watered, so the pressure is off there. I do keep a few seed raised annuals on ‘stand-by’ for plunging into any gaps which present themselves but this is the kind of ‘high end’ gardening which is not for everyone.
If we get any good weather I want to be able to enjoy it so I’ll not be fretting too much about the garden. I’ve done all I can, up to this point, and it won’t hurt for it to get a bit ‘shaggy’ for a week or two. There’s loads of late flowering perennials waiting in the wings so, even if the early summer glory is only fleeting, the show is certainly far from over.

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