How can I be a better summer gardener?

If you thought spring was busy in the garden, Geoff Hodge shows you how to slow down a bit for summer

Hanging baskets are the stars of summer Image: Geoff Hodge

Spring is a dizzying madcap time in the garden – there’s so much to do. Sow seeds, take cuttings, buy new plants for summer displays and beyond, get to grips with the annual lawncare campaign, plant up containers, keep on top of weeds… But now that summer’s here, it’s time to relax and get on with why we garden in the first place – enjoying the garden. But that doesn’t mean everything comes shuddering to a full stop. You need to keep an eye on things, so that all that spring frenzy isn’t wasted.

Regular care and attention will produce the fabulous results you want, but that also doesn’t mean you need to be a slave to your garden – some jobs literally take a matter of minutes.

Green fingers

Your secret weapon to summer success is VIAP: Vigilance; Instant Action; Persistence! Keep a regular eye on things, do the right things and at the right time and everything will be hunky dory. This, to me, is what having “green fingers” is all about.

When you walk past a container, stick your finger in the compost. If it feels damp, the compost is moist so won’t need watering. But, if dry, it will.

Look carefully at plants for signs and symptoms of pest or disease problems – especially those that you know are susceptible or that had problems in previous years.

If you see a weed seedling or a young weed plant, get it out asap before it grows and spreads.

Water, water everywhere?

All plants need a regular supply of water at their roots to ensure healthy growth and great performance, but not all need regular watering – if any watering at all. Well-established and drought-resisting plants are only likely to need addition water during prolonged, very dry summers.

When you do water beds and borders, do it thoroughly – little and often leads to problems. A good soak once a week is better than a splash every day. And make sure you apply it where it’s needed – at the roots – by watering the soil rather than all over the plant. This will also help reduce plant disease problems, as most leaf diseases need a film of moisture on the leaves for the spores to germinate and attack the plant.

But the one area that does need regular attention is any plants growing in containers – especially hanging baskets. These have restricted roots that can’t go off in search of water and are more-or-less totally dependent on you.

Hanging baskets are the stars of summer
Image: Geoff Hodge

You can read all about watering plants in containers in my previous blog on hanging baskets.

Yum, yum!

Like you and me, plants don’t like to go without a steady supply of food to keep them strong, healthy and performing well, and many will need regular feeding. Again you can read a previous blog on plant feeding.

Birth control for plants

Plants flower for one reason and one reason only – to reproduce. As a result they make seeds, which are their “babies”. Once the flowers have been pollinated, the plants can lie back and think of summer, safe in the knowledge that their work for the year is done. They then put all their energy into looking after their babies, and don’t waste any on producing new flowers, so their display value is over.

Many summer-flowering plants are repeat or, what’s called recurrent, flowering. This means that if you frustrate them by removing the developing seedpod, seed head or fruit, they have the capability to start flowering again. This is the basis of deadheading and it’s important with many summer-flowering bedding plants and roses, for example, to keep them flowering all summer and well into autumn.

While deadheading, it also gives you the ideal opportunity to look closely at the plant to check for dead, diseased, dying or damaged leaves and stems, look out for pests and diseases and deal with any problems. It’s a bit like a plant MOT.

Stop problems – before they become problems

We love our gardens and our plants, but sometimes things can start to go wrong – sometimes just a little, sometimes catastrophically. Our Flower Power Gardening Club gets numerous enquiries from gardeners who need some help with something going wrong in their gardens.

And it’s not surprising, since plants are living things and all living things are prone to problems caused by the environment they live in. But so much more for plants – they can’t move around to find shelter from the elements and attacks from pests and other problems.

Regular Pest Patrols will help stop pests and diseases getting totally out of control and becoming a problem.

Slugs and snails love a meal of hostas.

Again, wandering around the garden with your VIAP watchwords ringing in your ears is the way forward. Carry with you a bottle of Richard’s Plant Invigorator and you have something immediately to hand to deal with insect pests and powdery mildew diseases, as well as something that will help build up the plants’ strength and help them fight off problems.

Plant Invigorator is a friendly, non-chemical way to beat plant pests and it feeds your plants each time you apply.
Image: Richard Jackson’s Garden

And yes, you can read one of my blogs on the benefits of Pest Patrols!

Hoe, hoe, hoe… and more hoeing

Weeding can be the most time-consuming job in the garden. Can being the operative word.

A good trusty hoe is your best weapon in the war on weeds. A regular gentle stroll around the garden for five to 10 minutes – maybe with a drink in one hand! – with a hoe with a nice sharp blade (sharpen the blade regularly) means you can deal with small weeds quickly and easily. If you leave them until they get bigger, you’ll have to spend more time digging them out, and soon they’ll start flowering and setting seed. Don’t forget the old saying: “One year’s seeding means seven years’ weeding”. If you allow weeds to produce seeds, then you’re set up for lots more weeding for the next few years because they don’t all germinate straight away!

This effective natural weedkiller is based on an extract from a common garden plant
Image: Richard Jackson’s Garden

Fill the flower gap

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we end up with unexpected gaps in beds and borders where either something has died or hasn’t grown quite as expected. These annoying gaps can mess up your fabulous displays. This is when a quick visit to the local garden centre or nursery will pay dividends. They offer good-sized plants that will provide instant colour – just pop them in and plug the gaps.

Geoff Hodge

About Geoff Hodge

Geoff Hodge is a freelance garden writer, writing for various national
gardening magazines and websites – as well as lots more besides! He answers the questions submitted by Richard Jackson's Gardening Club members. Previously, he was the Web Editor for the Royal Horticultural Society, Gardening Editor of Garden News magazine and Technical Editor of Garden Answers magazine. He has written eight gardening books and broadcasts on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and is a regular guest on Ken Crowther’s gardening programme on BBC Essex.
www.gardenforumhorticulture.co.uk
@Hodgerow
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