June arrived in the midst of another drought. The ground cracked, pots parched, leaves scorched and water butts ran dry. It felt like mission impossible to keep plants limping through this period. Literally every drop was precious. And then came the rain! By complete contrast the skies opened and released a deluge which was a welcomed relief all round.
As June slips in to July we are all getting to grips with our new, slightly relaxed, lockdown lives. These passed few months have been challenging. We have seen our lives become more focussed on our immediate surrounding area and we have all learnt to appreciate the natural world around us far more than ever before, taking comfort from the security of its continuing circle of life, business as usual for nature, life goes on regardless of our troubles.
Everyday whilst gardening I have been amazed and surprised at the wonderful wildlife right under my nose. Here are some of the highlights... makes you wonder what else was hiding in the undergrowth? The grass snake was actually a couple of years ago but I couldn't resist including.
Click the photos to enlarge and view insect ID.
As we move into summer a top priority is watering. Pots are particularly vulnerable in hot weather as plants cannot push their roots deeper into the ground to search out water supplies, so keep on it. Move pots to a shadier part of the garden to try and reduce scorching from direct sunlight.
Conserve or recycle any water you can, from cooking or cooled down unused kettle water.
The best time to water is early morning or evening when the temperatures are lower and you won't risk leaf scorch with accidental spills or water waste through evaporation. Ideally use rainwater as tap water contains chlorine but as water butts run dry, we cannot afford to be fussy, use whatever is available.
Feed, feed, feed. Flowering and fruiting plants are working overtime now. As long as the plants are watered, they will be able to absorb the nutrients.
Put some of your weeds to good use – make homemade nettle compost tea; high in nitrogen, great for new shoots. Make homemade Comfrey compost tea, high in potassium to encourage flowers and fruits or I also use organic seaweed.
I always keep an area of nettles at the back of my garden. It provides excellent habitat for caterpillars, moths and snails as well as being a constant supply for nettle tea.
Remember to keep bird baths topped up and put out a shallow dish with a stone in or something raised as a landing pad for bees. They need to drink too.
Many gardening jobs span the summer but the main mantra is water, water, water!
Refresh pots and create colourful new hanging baskets with Pelargoniums, Begonias, Dichondra silver falls, Hedra helix gold trailing (Ivy), Nepeta trailing, Petunias trailing, Nasturium, strawberries and succulents to name a few. Seek out drought resistant plants - this will help your displays survive heatwaves and holidays.
With the summer holidays fast approaching I would normally suggest asking a friendly neighbour if they can do a little watering for you if you are away. Always unfortunate that most gardens are climaxing around August during the holidays when people are traditionally away... but who knows what this summer holds? We could all feasibly be enjoying a staycation and making the most of being at home.
Plant out summer bedding and homegrown seedlings that have matured. I am sure by now you have made space in the greenhouse by moving plants to their final home for the year.
Deadhead roses, peonies, pinks, geum… stop summer flowering plants going to seed to prolong flowering period and promote more buds developing.
The cutting garden – pick flowers regularly to encourage new growth and ensure a constant supply. Regularly pick Lathyrus odoratus (sweet peas) to stop them going to seed and prolong flowering period.
By now courgettes, pumpkins, squash and tomatoes will be outdoors and fruiting. Pinch out tomato side shoots. Use a high potash feed to aid fruit development.
Succession sow salad, radish, mange tout and carrots for a continuous crop.
Cover soft fruit with netting to protect from birds.
Stake tall / floppy plants such as dahlia or sunflowers.
Harvest lavender flower heads from late June... or leave them for the pollinators to enjoy.
Dry out garlic, onions and shallots before harvesting them.
Thin out small apples to help avoid brown rot and allow remaining fruit to have space to swell.
Harvest the fruits of your labour! Broad beans, peas, early potatoes, asparagus (early June), spinach, chard, salad, broccoli, currants, strawberries and summer raspberries. Enjoy.
Sow winter brassicas, carrots, beetroot, kale, peas, winter radish, second cropping potatoes turnips and salad.
Sow seed for over wintering flowers. Direct sow from any spent seed heads in the garden i.e. forget-me-nots.
Cut out leaves affected by hollyhock rust, clematis wilt, rose black spot. Pick up all leaves at base of plant to avoid them returning through the soil to the plant’s roots; break the cycle.
Keep an eye out for tomato and potato blight.
Plant autumn bulbs such as Nerines.
Check tree ties are not too tight; do not want it to cut into bark as trunk grows.
Ideally only mow lawns once a month. Allow a few weeks between mows to give wildflowers a chance to grow - the insects will thank you for it. You will providing habitat and a food source to pollinators which help your garden and wildlife stay healthy.
Greenhouse may need shading to prevent plant scorching.
Ponds: remove about third of blanket weed from surface this will let more air and light circulate. Remember to leave it on side of pond so wildlife can crawl out. Allow your stunning pond plants to thrive.
Take extra care when removing vegetation from ponds as I discovered a stunning dragonfly who had recently moulted hanging onto the underside of a lily pad.
Prune now or AFTER flowering: summer prune wispy Wisteria shoots, grape vine leaves/shoots can be cut back to expose fruit to light and improve air circulation; clip Buxus (Box), Privet and Yew; blackcurrants as collecting crop, cytisus, hardy geraniums and nepeta to encourage second flourish, prune berberis, deutzia, magnolia, syringa (common lilac), euphorbia characias ‘Wulfenii’ remove spent flowers stems, weigela, rosmarinus, plum and cherry trees, philadelphus, viburnum tinus and plicatum to name a few.
Hoe annual weeds.
Remove perennial weeds such as ground elder & bindweed. Avoid chemicals if possible – organic gardening friendly for wildlife, pets and children! If you cannot avoid them then treat specific area, wrap in a plastic bag to contain it whilst still attached to parent plant so systematic weed killer can work its way to the roots; otherwise dig out as much as possible, try to untwine from border plant roots. Virtually impossible to dig out completely as even an inch of root left in ground re-grows but new plants will have weaker/unestablished new roots so easier to remove and over time the problem can be managed and maintained. Digging out needs to be regularly repeated.
Remove tap rooted weeds. You can buy specific taproot tools to avoid disturbing soil and plants around the weed and make removal easier. Try to remove entire taproot or it will re-grow. A natural alternative to glyphosate-based systematic weed killer is pelargonic acid (naturally occurring in geranium leaves).
Look out for pests & diseases on plants i.e. rose black spot, lily beetle, rosemary and mint leaf beetle.
In this current period of drought slugs and snails have gone into hiding and so subsequently there has been very little damage but I do see incredible results by spraying plants with a homemade garlic solution - flawless hosta leaves. An excellent organic fertilizer encouraging strong roots and healthy plants which should ward off pests and diseases naturally so they move away from precious plants and can munch on other 'wilder' areas of the garden.
I use The Garlic Farm spray recipe. If you want your solution to be completely natural then leave out the washing up liquid.
Alternatively pick off by hand, use, copper rings, shingle/egg shells or try nematodes ‘Nemaslug’ although this does require moist conditions to work.
Encourage natural predators into your garden, frogs and birds, who will do the job of keeping the slug and snail population under control. Ladybirds, parasite wasps and hoverflies will naturally eat sap-sucking aphids.
Avoid all metaldehyde-based products - disastrous for wildlife and leaves chemicals in the soil.
Vine Weevil can be a real problem in pots. The beetles are active now so physical remove if you see them or use Nematodes. ‘Nemasys’ is a biological vine weevil killer, which is fast active and compatible with organic gardening. Simply water into pots. Treatments lasts six weeks.
Gardens are delicately balanced ecosystems so try not to totally eradicate pests as they will be a food source for other creatures i.e. birds/frogs love slugs & snails! Everything co-existing, with no dominant species, will equal a healthy garden.
Enjoy a fabulous summer in the garden!
All photos taken by Debi Holland © 2020