Despite all the rain and cooler temperatures this Summer plant life has exploded. Normally August is a time to put your green feet up and enjoy the fruits of your labour but this year you will notice there is more to be done than normal.
Sustainable watering is the key to success in your garden this August. Especially if your soil is free draining, despite all the rain we have had you will still need to think about tender perennials, vegetable watering and of course anything growing in pots. Water is a precious resource and supplies in the UK are coming under pressure from climate change, population growth and the need to protect the environment. Because of this, we need to use our water wisely. Rainwater harvesting and storing is a great method to both reduce your watering costs and conserve your water usage. In addition to this, like my farmer relatives in Mudgee Australis, we can start to use greywater. This is the relatively clean wastewater from baths, sinks, washing machines (that have used environmentally friendly soaps) and other kitchen appliances). It is an environmentally friendly way to water your garden throughout the driest season.
Pond and water feature care
Water from ponds can evaporate throughout the hot August days, leading to water levels dropping. The reduced surface area can be damaging for fish as less oxygen is available, so it is important to keep your pond topped up. Ideally use rainwater from a butt as tap water contains high levels of nitrates and nutrients, which can cause algae to prosper. Algae may also prosper from the high levels of photosynthesis caused by the hot August sun. Too much algae cover can block out sunlight and oxygen from entering the water, which can be damaging to fish and other pond plants. Make sure to clear large parts of the surface of your pond of algae to prevent deoxygenation from occurring.
Wisteria will flower more freely and regularly if pruned twice a year. The removal of growth in summer allows better air circulation and more sunlight to reach the base of the young growths, encouraging better ripening and improving the chances of flower bud formation. Restricting the amount of vegetative growth and encouraging short, flowering spurs will result in more flowers. Cut back the whippy green shoots of the current year’s growth to five or six leaves after flowering in August. This controls the size of the wisteria, preventing it from getting into guttering and windows, and encourages it to form flower buds rather than green growth. You won’t have to decide on which main stems you are going to keep until your January pruning.
Deadhead flowering plants
Make sure to deadhead flowers to improve your garden aesthetic and promote stronger growth. The most common plants which can be deadheaded include roses, Penstemons and some shrubs like Choisya. Ideally, you should deadhead a plant as soon as they begin to look scruffy, but a few days delay won’t make a difference. The simplest method to deadhead is to pinch off the flower using your finger and thumb, aim to remove the flower with the stalk so the plant looks tidy. Alternatively, use secateurs for plants with tough and stringy stems
Summer-fruiting raspberries are important to produce flowers and fruit on one-year-old canes. Cut back the raspberry canes to ground level after harvesting in the summer, without leaving a stub. Select the strongest young canes, about six to eight per plant, which should be about 10-20cm apart, and tie them in horizontal wire supports. Finally, remove the remaining stems not tied at ground level. The summer pruning of raspberries is important as it encourages new stems to grow from the base, which will carry fruit for next summer.
Feed the soil with green manures
Green manure provides many benefits to gardens. Their foliage smothers weeds, their roots prevent soil erosion and they are vital in maintaining soil nutrient levels. Sow green manure in rows, or cover bare patches of soil between crops from August onwards. They will mop up any nutrients, preventing them from being washed away by winter rain, and will release the nutrients back into the soil when dug up in Spring. In addition to this, green manures are a legume (a member of the pea and bean family) and therefore fixate and store nitrogen, a valuable plant nutrient.
Collect seed from gardening plants
Growing plants from seed is straightforward and inexpensive. As a general rule, collect seeds around two months after flowering. In August, poppies, beans, hawthorn, campions and teasle seeds are commonly collected, amongst others. Harvesting your seeds is fun and exciting, but does take some understanding and planning. There are many online guides I suggest you review some instructions before collecting seeds, including information from the RHS.
Prune apples and pears
Summer pruning apples and pears allow sunlight to ripen the fruit and ensures good cropping the following year. To prune, cut back new shoots more than 20cm long growing from the main stem to three leaves above the basal cluster of leaves. Do not prune new shoots that are less than 20cm long as they usually terminate in fruit buds. Cut back new shoots growing from existing side shoots to one leaf above the basal cluster. Finally, remove any upright, vigorous growth completely.
What to do with your vegetables in August
Irregular watering can lead to problems such as blossom end rot in tomatoes and splitting of root vegetables, so make sure to water well during dry spells. Weeds compete with vegetables for water and act as hosts for pests and diseases, so remove them regularly by hoeing. Marrows should be raised off the ground slightly, to prevent them discolouring from contact with the soil. Continue earthing up celery, putting a layer of paper between the stems and the soil and take care when thinning out any late-sown carrot seedlings to prevent the scent released attracting carrot fly females. Finally, check vegetables regularly for aphids and deal with them as soon as you see them. Make sure you understand the different requirements and threats to your vegetables and take the correct precautions and your vegetables should survive the hot and dry month of August!
Where to visit this August
If you haven’t been to the National Trust garden, Nymans to the east of the village of Handcross, then a visit will be thrilling to you. The garden was developed, starting in the late 19th century, by three generations of the Messel family, and was brought to renown by Leonard Messel. So it is a horticultural collection of fascinating plants.
I will hopefully be interviewing the head gardener for the next edition.