What an amazing run of hot weather we’ve had! And what a lot of opportunities to sit back in a shady nook and admire all your fabulous gardening efforts so far this year. Certainly much of the urgency has gone out of the tasks but for those who don’t like to sit around for long, here are a few ideas to get you up out of your deckchair:
TAKING THE PLAIN OUT OF THE FANCY
Variegated shrubs and even trees can sometimes develop an un-variegated shoot which can grow vigorously and even swamp your pretty plant if you let it get big. You may have seen some varieties of cherry tree, for instance, in which the duller leaves and flowers of the rootstock have grown energetically and ruined the look and shape of the whole tree. So be vigilant, and trim out any plain shoots as soon as you see them. Take out any all-white or pale yellow shoots as well – they will lack vigour and never amount to much.
CARING FOR CUTTINGS
Now be honest, did you heed my advice a few weeks ago, and take some softwood cuttings of shrubs and perennials?
If you did and looked after them well, many should now have developed a nice little root-system, and be ready to separate out into their own pot of good gritty compost. Keep them protected – an open cold frame or sheltered shady spot is ideal – and well-watered, and you will have strong new plants by late summer/autumn ready to use or give away.
GILDING THE LILY
One of the glories of the July garden is a clump of beautiful lilies, always arresting and dramatic, and often scented too.
But if you find that the leaves have got holes in them and the flowers
are dangling by a thread, the you have probably got the dreaded scarlet lily leaf beetle whose adults (and particularly larvae) are voracious chompers of all kinds of lily (and fritillaries earlier in the season too).
These beetles are tricky little wotsits – the adults may be easy to spot with their pillar-box red backs, but they can detect movement close by, and will instantly drop to the ground on to their backs; their tummies are black so then you can’t see them any more. So put a bowl of soapy water underneath the plant before you disturb them, or at least a sheet of white paper so that you can see them once they have dropped and squash them. The larvae have a more horrible way of disguising themselves – they cover themselves in their own slimy black poo! Yuck! If I find little piles of this (or groups of the tiny orange eggs) on the leaf-undersides, I tend to take the whole leaf off, because it is hard to be sure that you’ve squished the blighters amongst all the excrement!
* Keep going with the deadheading, especially on the roses and sweetpeas
– nothing else you can do is more likely to keep the display going on through the rest of the summer. Cut back penstemons to just above a bud.
* Maximise the benefit from watering – sink a plastic flower-pot
into the soil near to your plants and water into that – the water will sink down straight to the roots where it’s needed, and you won’t be encouraging roots up to the surface where they can frazzle.
* This lovely hot summer means that lots of seeds are already ripening ready for collection. Use paper bags to collect seeds and seedheads (they can rot in plastic ones) and do remember to write on the bag what they are – I have an embarrassing number of bags of unnamed seeds myself!