August, and the hot colours of late summer are starting to glow in the garden. Holidays are in full swing, but there are still a few garden tasks to be getting on with, such as tending to tomatoes and vines, taking some conifer cuttings and picking pears…..
Tomatoes that have been looked after with some degree of care will go on and on creating new trusses of fruit. But much as you might like the idea of picking tomatoes till Christmas, the fact is that a lot of that later fruit at the top won’t ripen properly once the nights start to draw in. And struggling to try and achieve this will mean that the plants’ resources will become very stretched.
You actually want them to apply all their resources into swelling and ripening the toms you already have, so cut your losses, quite literally, and use secateurs to trim off the growing tips of single-stemmed (‘cordon’) tomato plants after they have 4-5 trusses already developing. If yours are bush tomatoes, pinch out the growing tips of all the stems.
Isn’t the scent of a freshly-picked tomato ravishing! You will retain much more flavour in your home-grown tomatoes if you can keep them somewhere other than the fridge.
This task has the same feel as the one above, in that your aim is to channel the plant’s energy into the best fruit. In a vine cluster, there will be grapes that are smaller than the others, and as they swell, the cluster will become too crowded and prevent air from reaching the centre. This may even cause the whole cluster to rot, which would be a terrible shame.
So, as with the tomatoes in the earlier section, you need to sacrifice some of the fruit in order to improve the quality of your harvest.
Get in there with some fine scissors (vine scissors, if you have such a thing) and snip out the inferior fruitlets, leaving only the best ones with gaps in between them. It’s a bit fiddly, I’m afraid, but the results are worth it.
Now here’s a thing – did you know that it’s perfectly possible to make new conifers from little cuttings? If patience is one of your strong points (and we gardeners are quite good at patience, aren’t we!), then this would be worth a try. They do take up to a year to root, but think of the money you’ll save!
Most kinds of cypress are suitable including Leyland and Western red, as well as yew and juniper. If you’re going to give your evergreen hedge a late-summer trim as many people do, you could use some of the trimmings.
Early in the morning when the plant is still full of water, cut a stem that is woody at its base and soft at its tip. Then get going straightaway by taking a few cuttings off this stem 10-15 cms long, stripping the leaves off the bottom third and dibbing them round the edges of a pot of gritty compost. Leave them in a warm bright place but not direct sunlight, and keep the compost damp. It would be almost rude not give something so simple a try, wouldn’t it!
• Please don’t worry about watering lawns unless they are newly sown or laid. Grass is a tough old thing and though it may look very browned-off in more ways than one, it will soon recover in the autumn rains.
• Pick pears just BEFORE they’re fully ripe, if you can, and let them develop their full delectable flavour in the fruit bowl.
• Cut back perennials that were fabulous in the July garden but have faded now. Things like Campanula lactiflora that don’t even have good seedheads can mask smaller things in the border that flower later, so a bit of careful tidying can yield rewards you may have missed otherwise.