Our blazing August continues in the south. Many of us are now finding that we are having to make tough decisions about what to water with cans, and what will just have to be sacrificed – at least for this year.
But even in extreme weather, there are jobs to be done like trimming evergreen shrubs, sowing some perennials and growing some spuds for Christmas……..
The rosemary in my husband’s little culinary herb garden hasn’t minded the lack of rain at all! This Mediterranean herb has wonderfully aromatic foliage full of oil that protects it from desiccating in the heat. The softer young growth has the strongest flavour, but you can harvest it at any time of year for added warmth and depth to all sorts of dishes.
Now is a very good time to take some cuttings of rosemary – you may want to make more for yourself, or to give away to friends. Or maybe you want one for yourself by taking cuttings from someone else’s plant……..! If you don’t have a plant available to raid for cuttings, here’s a good tip: buy some sprigs of rosemary in the supermarket and use those. It may not be as reliable as using fresh sprigs cut from a plant, but it’s definitely worth a go!
Your cuttings need to be 4-6” long (10-15 cm) and then strip all the foliage off the bottom 2’ (5 cm).
It’s a long time since I’ve bothered with growth hormone gel for cuttings. But if you do use it, you can dip the cuttings in that and then tuck them straight into pots of compost to root. Otherwise put your rosemary cuttings in a jar of water for a couple of weeks and you should see small roots developing from the part of the stems that are below water.
Once that happens, the cuttings are ready to be transferred (be careful with those delicate new roots!) to small pots of gritty compost. Water them, and let them to grow on in a warm place until the roots are filling the pot, which may take a couple of months.
One thing that rosemary HATES is having its roots in soggy soil, especially during the winter. And young plants are particularly susceptible. For that reason, it’s a good idea to keep your rooted cuttings in pots (transplant them carefully to larger pots, if necessary) until at least next spring, (a year would be even better) so you can keep an eye on this until your plants are really strong.
Rosemary is fully hardy as well as evergreen, so the well-rooted cuttings in their pots should be fine outside in a sheltered place, until you’re ready to plant them out in their final positions.
Trimming the evergreens
We’ve allowed a bay tree to grow to a massive size, which is a bit outrageous, but it’s because it protects our back terrace from the roaring Westerly winds we sometimes suffer here. If you have bay or other evergreen shrubs that you are growing for their shape and ‘heft’ in the garden, especially in winter when most other plants are dormant, this is the time to trim them back almost to the point where they started growing in late spring.
The idea is to get them back to their more tightly-packed leaves and therefore their tidier, stronger shapes. Another reason for doing this is that long new shoots can add weight and cause your shrub to splay out and sag.
If you want to increase the size of your shrub but tidy it up, cut all the new growth down by about half its length. If you want to keep it about the same size as it was last year (particularly if you’re growing it as a hedge, for instance) cut down to two leaves above the base of this season’s growth.
While you’re about it, do trim out any weak or distorted shoots that you spot, to keep the plant looking tip-top.
As well as bay, you can treat holly, Aucuba, Viburnum tinus and Euonymus in the same way. If you have any variegated varieties, watch out for any non-variegated shoots – these will grow more strongly than the variegated shoots and will eventually take over if you don’t trim them out when they are small.
- Still up for a bit of seed action? Sow some perennials right now like lupins (as in our feature pic this week) , delphiniums, aquilegias, winter pansies etc. They’ll make nice strong little plants ready to go out in the garden next year, and growing them from seed will save you a fortune on impulse-buys at the garden centre! Click on the link at the end to see a short video I made on how to do this.
- My greenhouse has hit some alarming temperatures this summer at times. If yours has too, there are some things you can do to help a little. Make sure the shading is positioned well; keep a through-draught of air by opening all the doors, windows and vents: and chuck some water over the flooring to make it more humid and bring down the temperature.
- Along the same lines, keep YOURSELF cool as well. Don’t work outside in the middle of a hot day, if you can possibly help it, and keep up with the loose-clothing/sunhat/high factor suncream/hydration routine at all times. It’s a great excuse for a siesta, at the very least!
- Unlike apples, pears should be picked BEFORE they’re totally ripe and stored for a few days to become softer. For apples on a tree, lift them up gently and if the stalk breaks easily, the apples are ready for picking.
- Fancy eating your own new potatoes on Christmas Day? Get hold of some seed potatoes that have been cold-stored over the summer – don’t be tempted to use ordinary seed-potatoes: they’re just going dormant! Plant them in a large bag or pot (make sure it has drainage holes). A bag or pot can be moved indoors when it turns frosty, though keeping them in a cold greenhouse is ideal. Keep them watered and add more compost as they grow. Dig them up for a surprise feast at Christmas!
Here is the link to my video about sowing perennials.
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