Summer in the UK is a feast for all five senses. I am imagining that you are reading this relaxing in a lawn chair surrounded by the following:
The sights of vibrant flowers and the lush green foliage of a garden at its peak providing a sumptuous spectacle to dazzle the eyes.
The sounds of singing birds, buzzing bees, rustling leaves and water softly splashing in a fountain creating a natural symphony for the ears.
Freshly cut grass and the sweet scent of flowers such as roses, lavender, and honeysuckle filling the air with their heady aromas. The waft of woodsmoke as barbeques are lit on a Saturday afternoon. These are the smells of summer.
Summer is the taste on your tongue of warm juicy tomatoes eaten straight from the vine, the freshest pesto from plot to plate in minutes and delicious berries with a dollop of ice cream.
Wrap all of those senses with the feel of sun on your skin (or the sound of rain on your umbrella) and you have a British Summer.
Summer is often the pinnacle of the gardening year, it is what we have been yearning for since the short dark cold days at beginning of January. But how can we keep it going as long as possible? Here are the essential jobs.
If you have newly planted trees and shrubs they will need regular watering. However, check your borders first by digging into the surface with a trowel. If you have mulched well the soil may still be moist underneath even if the surface looks dry. It is a waste of time and resources to water unnecessarily and overwatering can lead to mould and mildew problems. This is particularly important if you are watering in the evening. You can mulch with straw, bark chippings, grass clippings, compost or even newspaper and cardboard to help your soil retain moisture.
The best time to water is in the cool of the morning. This allows time for the water to percolate down through the soil without evaporating in the heat of the day. It also allows plants to dry before the evening.
For many of us morning watering does not fit into our busy schedules. It is fine to water in the cool of the evening but be aware that plants that remain wet overnight encourage fungal problems like mildew and pests like slugs or snails. When watering keep water off the foliage as much as possible. Try not to water in the middle of the day unless a plant needs to be rescued or you have no other option.
It is better to water a tree or shrub with a bucketful of water once a week than to sprinkle a little every day. If you soak the ground the water will filter down into the soil and draw the roots down with it. This makes the plants more resilient to future dry spells. If you water a little every day the water will evaporate before the roots can get to it. The roots will remain near the surface and dry out more quickly, weakening the plant. Always water the soil not the plant. Tree ferns are an exception; for these you will need to water the stem and crown as well as the soil.
For pots and containers, if it is very hot and dry, place them in saucers or trays to catch water and act as reservoirs. Pots and containers may need watering daily. The smaller the pot, the quicker it dries out. Smaller pots and hanging baskets or tomatoes/cucumbers growing in greenhouses may need watering twice per day. If you are going away for a few days, move your pots and group them together in the shade before you go.
All plants, whether houseplants or outdoor plants, prefer rainwater if they can get it. If you have limited access to rainwater prioritise using it on ericaceous plants in pots or for topping up ponds. Use tap water for the rest. Plan where you can add water butts to downpipes to collect rain.
You do not need to water established trees, shrubs and hedges. Leave established lawns to go brown, they will bounce back quickly when the rains return. New lawns will need watering until established.
If you find you are spending too much of your precious time watering it is worth considering swapping your thirsty plants for drought tolerant ones. Make plans now to source the plants you will need and make the changes in early autumn. Click here to see what drought tolerant plants we have available in our web shop.
Deadhead faded flowers
Deadheading does two things. Firstly it removes spent flowers, keeping your plants looking fresh. Secondly decaying petals on plants can become slimy in the rain and encourage fungal infections, so they are best removed. If you have once flowering roses which produce beautiful hips, do not deadhead because you will remove the hips too.
For repeat flowering plants deadheading diverts the plants energies from producing seeds into producing new flowers. Often by deadheading you can continue the show through the summer and sometimes into autumn. Look up each plant individually to check the best way to deadhead. For roses for example, you should cut around 15cm of stem off back to just above a leaf joint. For dahlias trace the flower back to the joint where it joins another bud and cut off there.
Harvest your homegrown fruit and vegetables
Summer is a time of bountiful harvests and gluts of fresh fruit and vegetables. Home grown food tastes amazing, it has been grown without chemicals, food miles and is as fresh as can be. It can also save you money at the shops. For the effort you put in you can get so much more out. For some crops the more you harvest the more it will grow. It is the same principle as deadheading flowers. If you pick all the French or runner beans, more will grow. If you harvest courgettes when they are about 15 to 20cm long, along comes some more a week later. Broccoli is a fantastic one to repeat harvest. Cut the main head when it is ready and multiple side shoots will grow with smaller heads which are wonderful in stir fries and it will continue to do this for months.
Plan to spend a few hours once each week to prepare excess crops for preserving. I fill my freezer space to the brim with ratatouille, rhubarb, pesto and prepared vegetables to use through the winter. Homemade jam, chutney and flavoured gin also make great Christmas presents. Share excess with friends and neighbours or food banks. I have even left courgettes on random doorsteps in my street!
With all that harvesting of gorgeous grub, there needs to be some feeding! Keep your barbecue in tip top condition ready to use and keep a supply of essentials ready for an impromptu BBQ meal. Feed your friends and families with delicious food and home grown salads and fruits.
Check your BBQ over before using it for the first time each season. Spider webs and dirt for example can block the burner holes of gas BBQs. For both charcoal and gas grills ensure the grills or grates are thoroughly cleaned between each use, this helps to stop food from sticking and gives beautiful defined grill marks on your food. Clean and season your BBQs before and after use following the recommendations of the manufacturer. This will ensure a successful barbecue session and prevent fat fires occurring.
You will find everything you need to maintain and get the best from your BBQ by visiting any of our four garden centres. You can also browse our BBQ products on our web shop by clicking here.
Whilst feeding your family is important, it is also important to feed your plants to ensure they continue to look their best for as long as possible. Plants in pots will use up their nutrients quite quickly. Flowering plants can be given an all-purpose liquid plant food. Fruiting plants and vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers benefit from a weekly dose of tomato feed. Acid loving plants will need a boost with a specialist feed for ericaceous plants. I find the mantra ‘Feedy Friday’ helps me to remember to feed my plants. Click here to browse our plant foods and fertilisers online.
By our resident horticultural expert