Once we’re into late August, it’s hard for a gardener not to start thinking about next summer! So some of my tips this week have something of a forward-planning theme – planting bulbs, trimming lavender, improving the compost-heap…..
BULBS FOR THE FUTURE
If you’ve been wowed by a stand of lilies this summer either your own or someone else’s, then start to investigate buying and planting more, anytime from now until the end of September. Planting such bulbs as Lilium regale now rather than in spring, gives them a chance to really establish before the winter sets in.
These were planted at about 9″ (22cm) deep at the end of last August. I’d loosened the soil beneath them and lightened it with some fine grit. Lilies like these are a bit like clematis in that they love their heads in full sun and their tootsies in shade – if you can organise such conditions as these. Those glorious confections called Madonna lilies prefer alkaline soil.
In fact, there is quite a range of bulbs, autumn- , spring- and summer-flowering ones, that can and should be planted now, including Amaryllis belladonna, Colchicum, Cyclamen, Narcissus, Autumn Crocus, Nerine, Sternbergia…….lots of wonderful things to get in the ground now ready to enjoy later.
LOPPING THE LAVENDER
I have a friend who grows the most beautiful lavender in her front gravel garden. It is a glorious sight on a bright summer’s day and buzzing loudly with happy bees. The flowers have faded now and this is a good moment to trim the whole plant back to a neat framework, using secateurs, hedge-trimmers or shears.
The idea is to encourage the plant to produce the bushy new shoots that will bear next summer’s fragrant blooms. There is a bit of a technique to this, because your plant will get very sulky if you cut back into the old dark wood at the bottom. It almost always won’t shoot from there, so try to leave a couple of inches (5cms) of the new lighter growth on the shoots.
After its short-back-and-sides, soak the soil round the plant with some liquid fertiliser like the nice home-made nettle soup I told you how to make in June’s GrowHow tips. ( OMG! My brew smells truly terrible, but the plants will love it!) So, you’ve congratulated the plants for what they’ve done this year, while encouraging them to do even better next year – you see…once a schoolteacher, always a schoolteacher.
“I say, I say, I say, my dog’s an engineer.”
“How d’you know he’s an engineer?”
“Everytime I tell him off, he makes a bolt for the door….!”
Just needed to get that off my chest. Now back to business. Some leafy veg plants are irritatingly apt to ‘bolting’ – rushing up to flower, just when you think that you’re going to harvest some luscious leaves. The flower stems are generally tough and inedible, and the plant stops putting much effort into leaf production. It’s more likely to happen during hot, dry spells and once the plant has bolted, you usually have to just dig up the whole thing and chuck it on the compost heap, but a few of them you might be able to rescue.
Chard, leaf beet, rocket, basil etc. can be salvaged sometimes, by chopping out the flowering shoots completely and soaking the soil thoroughly around the plant. With a bit of luck, you will see a new crop of juicy little leaves developing that will soon be ready for you to harvest.
* Finish dividing irises, breaking off and discarding the old wizened corms and replanting the younger ones shallowly in fresh soil and a sunny spot. I made a short videoa couple of years ago on exactly how to do this..
* Keep harvesting fruit, veg and salad crops as soon as they’re ready – they taste SO much better fresh, and by being denuded of their goodies, many of your plants will be stimulated into producing more of them.
* Don’t neglect that precious compost heap – turn it and mix it all up with a garden fork, and water it if it’s dry – it is your gold for the future!