Protect crops from pests

Invest in a fruit cage and get your reward with higher yields.

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If you’re a keen fruit grower, or wish to add a tasty range of fruits to your plot, you’ll do well to consider a nigh-on essential piece of equipment – a fruit cage.

Whether you have a large or small plot, varying sizes of fruit cage enable you to produce higher yields of crops, simply due to protection from large pests who will nibble any delicious fruit they can find. Deer, rabbits and pigeons are usually the culprits.

It's fruit ripening season – currants, cherries, raspberries, gooseberries, more strawberries – all are ripe for picking, but need protecting well. You can either get a very fine mesh net or steel cage with a removable roof to allow access to pollinators at flowering time, or invest in a mesh that has holes of around 3cm (3/4in) wide so that bees and other pollinators can enter to pollinate your fruit, but crucially, no pests!

There are a number of reasonable retailers online, some more pricey than others, depending on the size of your cage, too. Garden centres and nurseries are good sources, and may be able to advise as to the best size and material for your project. You can, of course, simply buy some fruit cage netting (try www.wmjames.co.uk, tel: 01308 425100) and erect your own thrifty construction from wooden supports, tightly secured with the net. A typical height is 2m, so you can freely walk around inside, though smaller crops won’t need this. Gravel boards or chicken wire buried underground (as with chicken coops) may keep out digging rabbits.

Aesthetics are down to you – fancy a beautiful, domed feature, or don’t mind a bit of an eyesore, as long as your fruit are safe? Both do the job. As for the worst affected fruit, blueberries, whitecurrants and redcurrants are usually loved the most by discerning nibblers as they’re the sweetest, but they like other fruit such as gooseberries and blackcurrants too.

Lift and divide bearded iris

July's the perfect time to do it for a glorious display of blooms next summer.

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Bearded iris make a lovely display in the garden in June with their attractive flowers on tall stems. They thrive in a well-drained soil and sunny position so that the sun can bake the exposed rhizomes. This is essential to promote flowering the following summer. After being planted in the same spot for a few years the thick, fleshy rhizomes can become over-crowed and very often the oldest parts in the centre of the clump dies out. This often coincides with a lack of flowers. As soon as this happens you need to dig up the clump, divide and replant the outer, healthy rhizomes to rejuvenate the clump. Most perennial plants are divided in the dormant season, but bearded iris is done now, in July. The plants don’t mind being disturbed in the middle of the summer, in fact it’s the ideal time because bearded iris naturally has a growth spurt in late summer and produces new roots and foliage. When dividing, you can replant in the same position as long as you fork over the soil and add a little organic matter. If planting some of the divisions elsewhere in the garden, remember that it needs to be a sunny position that isn’t shadowed by any overhanging trees and shrubs. Done now you should get a glorious display next June. 

Be smart watering in the heat

Make sure this precious resource isn't wasted.

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In prolonged periods of warm, dry weather some plants can suffer and will wilt or even die. To keep any vulnerable plants alive and ticking over it’s important to water them when the soil starts to dry out or as soon as the leaves start to show signs of stress.

When watering in the garden it’s very easy to use vast amounts of water, which not only costs a fortune if you’re on a meter, it’s also a waste of this very precious resource. Watering wisely and targeting only the plants that need water is the best approach.

Although a sprinkler might seem the easiest way to water areas of the garden, a great deal of the water you apply evaporates before the plants have a chance to use it and much of the water never gets to the roots where it’s needed. Simply spraying over flower beds at night with a hose sprinkler also wets the foliage and creates the ideal, cool damp conditions that slugs and snails love.

The most effective way to keep your plants growing and healthy is to direct the water to where it’s needed, down to the soil and roots. The best time to do this is early in the morning or late in the evening when the temperature is cooler. 

Prune stone fruit trees

It's the best time to trim for shape and good yield.

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You can shape up your established stone fruit trees now, to see them healthily into the fruiting season. These can be plums, peaches, cherries or apricots of about four years old and over. Younger trees need a systematic programme of formative framework pruning in spring, but older than that and they can just be lightly trimmed now.

It’s best to prune now, as opposed to their dormant season in winter, to help prevent silver leaf disease, a fungus that can infect pruning wounds between September and the following May, killing parts of the tree. You don’t need to do a lot of trimming, just a good bit of maintenance and shaping to neaten up.

You’re aiming for a clear, uncongested framework, clear of excess growth and damaged shoots – if any more needs doing as you inspect the tree carefully, you can carry it out over the next few weeks. Here are some tips on trimming…  

Care for greenhouse favourites

Keep on top of watering to help your plants stay happy.

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It’s important to keep on top of greenhouse plant care in summer, and particularly this year, with temperatures soaring for weeks on end with no rain and hot sun. Wonderful weather for many, but quite stressful for lots of unprepared plants! If it’s really hot outside, it’s likely to be a lot warmer in the greenhouse.

Scorch can be a problem – even if some of your plants like some heat and warmth, too much can harm them. Greenhouse shading keeps a lot of the hottest sun off, and you can also water early or late in the day to avoid scorching leaves. Keep vents and windows open to up the air flow and reduce scorch too.

Humidity helps plants cope with hot temperatures, keeping moisture handy to reduce stress – the trick of many plants originally hailing from tropical climes. Therefore we can help them along with this, by using a few tricks ourselves. Damping down surfaces, having trays of evaporating water placed around, and misting plants. All this increased humidity, however, can be a problem with pests such as aphids and mealybug, so be vigilant in checking for damage.

Label your plants well

They'll help you to remember varieties and can look good, too.

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Labelling plants is probably something we all intend to do, but don’t always get around to! In most cases it’s not a problem, but the more plants you grow the harder it is to recall their names. Having plants labelled certainly helps and it also means that when friends ask, if you can’t remember the plant name, you can refer to the label as an aid memoir.

Even in the fruit and vegetable patch it’s good practice to label plants, especially if you’re growing new varieties. This way you can compare their performance with other types and it helps you to increase your plant knowledge. For most vegetable crops, labels are temporary and for just a single season, but on perennial vegetables such as asparagus, or on fruit trees and bushes, a permanent label is needed to identify the variety. There are many ways that you can label plants from simply writing on small white plastic labels with a waterproof pen or pencil. You can also buy label printing machines or ready-made decorative labels in several designs. The type of label will depend on the style of your garden and the look that you want to create. Several companies sell a range of different labels, or you can easily make your own from off cuts of wood or recycled materials. 

Propagate pinks

Keep stocked up on this easy-grow perennial by taking cuttings now.

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Garden pinks (dianthus) will flower for several months through the summer and look great in the garden or containers. They also make good cut flowers for the house and to keep the plants flowering continuously you need to either pick the stems or deadhead on a regular basis. The popularity of this easy to grow perennial has increased over recent years and there are some really good varieties in a range of pastel and bright colours. To grow them in the garden they need a sunny position and a well-drained soil. Although a perennial plant, they are not naturally long-lived and after three or four years the plants start to become leggy and woody at their base.  When this happens, the plants lose their vigour and flowering will slow down. To keep your stock of pinks healthy you can easily propagate them through the summer months by taking short cuttings. Given the correct conditions they will root without any problems and can be grown on through the summer until they are large enough to plant in the garden.  

Prepare the cuttings from short, healthy non-flowering shoots and trim them to length and root them in a well-drained compost in small pots or cell trays. Stand the cutting in a shaded place out of direct sunlight and mist occasionally.

Fill gaps in your borders

Now's the perfect time to take stock and add some zing!

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It’s now that you can really see where the floral wow factor may be lacking in your garden. You’ve planted up most areas and let the plants do their thing – but once they’ve filled out are there any glaring gaps present? It’s good to not overdo it to start with in spring, buying fewer plants and letting them reach their summer potential first. Then you can leave room for some real crackers at a later date to add zing. That way all your plants will get enough room to thrive, without being squashed in. This will save you money too, so you’re not buying unnecessary plants, or cramming in something that will then die on you. Difficult to do, of course, when the shops are filled with beautiful plants!  

Your best bet for adding to the melee of blooms in your border is to get to your favourite garden centre or nursery, and for the most impact, find some plants that are blooming now. You may even find some bargains as the centres are trying to make room for newer stock. Go for hostas or dead nettles for shade, or geraniums, grasses, anything from the daisy family, achillea, penstemons or hollyhocks are all good doers in the sun, and will give much-needed colour and impact.

Get more short-lived perennials

Take cuttings now or sow seed to keep your garden full of favourite blooms.

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Perennial plants are very popular in the garden because they grow back year after year. The definition of a perennial is a plant that lives more than two years and in most cases they will live for many, many years and get better with age. But some perennial are short-lived and only live for three, four or five years.

Some of these perennials such as Verbena bonariensis and aquilegia naturally die after a few years even when grown in the correct soil conditions, but fortunately many of them self-seed.  Others such as penstemon and erysimum will sometimes live a little longer, but they tend to weaken and get leggy after a few years and flowering will decline.

In this situation it’s best to replace the plants with new ones every few years. 

Most perennials are fairly easy to propagate by seed or cuttings. Many will naturally self-seed in the borders or you can easily raise new plants by sowing packet seeds. These are best sown in pots or trays and the seedlings grown on ready for the garden. Other types can be propagated by taking short cuttings at this time of the year and rooted on in pots or trays. The rooted cuttings can then be grown on to produce strong new plants for planting in the garden next spring.

 

Give hedges a good trim

They'll benefit from a little cutting to keep them in shape.

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A well grown hedge has many uses and it can greatly add to the design and look of the garden. Many different plants can be used to create a hedge such as privet, hawthorn, beech, hornbeam, laurel, Portuguese laurel, lonicera, yew, box, thuja and leylandii to name but a few.

In many situations hedges are planted to mark a boundary and it’s important to keep it maintained to prevent it from spreading too wide. It will provide privacy and interest all year round, especially if you choose evergreen plants. Hedges can also be planted within a garden to sub-divide the garden and create different areas where they also act as a good backdrop to other plants. As well as looking natural in the garden, hedges also make good wind-breaks, add interest and height and provide habitat for a wide range of wildlife. 

Hedges can be trimmed in various ways depending on the size or type of plant used in the hedge and by this time of the year they will be making new growth and ready for a trim to keep them in shape. Before trimming any hedge, always check for nesting birds, as many birds often have a late brood in July. If nests are found, delay the trimming until the young birds have fledged. 

Plant some patio pot veg

Save space by popping a few crops into containers now

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Pretty much anything fruit and veg-wise can be grown in containers, and it’s a useful and versatile way of increasing your produce yield if you only have a small space to work with.

There are many crops that work well in a confined container space – pictured are tomatoes, chard, beetroot, cucumbers, courgettes and chillies, but you can grow anything from potatoes, peppers, carrots, cabbage or baby turnips – give it a go! Plug plants are available from garden centres still, or perhaps do a swap with a gardening buddy for something you have too much of – and you still have time to sow courgettes, beans, sweetcorn and salad leaves, for example.

Keep an eye on your potted produce at all times – they’re needier than ground-grown crops. Watch for yellowing leaves on your plants – this may mean you need to water them or feed them – it can be a sign of nutrient deficiency.

As they’ll be on your patio for you to look at while you’re sat looking over the garden, why not add a few marigolds, nasturtiums or sweet peas into the container mix? This will look lovely and give further ornamental value to your crops.

Propagate agave

Take cuttings and get new statement plants for free

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Agave americana is an interesting plant and makes a great structural specimen on a patio or in a Mediterranean-style garden. It originates from Southern USA and Mexico where it forms a large rosette of fleshy leaves that have spines along their edges. As a desert plant with thick succulent leaves it can stand periods of dry weather and heat. When grown in the UK it’s ideal for growing in a large pot so that it can be brought undercover in winter to protect it from frost and wet winters. It prefers a gritty well-drained compost, although in the summer months when it’s actively growing it should be watered and fed regularly. There are several forms available including variegated forms with attractive marking on the leaves. The plants are perennial and can live for many years, but they can also be monocarpic and die after flowering.  Fortunately, they are easy to propagate from offsets that develop around the base of established plant. These can be removed to grow on to form several new plants, identical to the parent plant. Rooting the offsets not only creates new plants, it can make the main plant look better as a single specimen. Propagating now gives the young plants time to establish a strong root system so that they’ll over-winter.

 

Care for tomatoes

Keep plants moist and well-fed through the summer months

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There are few things nicer than picking your own fresh tomatoes in summer. The flavour of tomatoes ripened in the warm sunshine is far superior to supermarket fruits and growing your own means you can choose the varieties you like. Tomatoes can be grown in many ways depending on the space and facilities you have. For an early crop, a greenhouse or polytunnel is ideal, but they can also be grown outside in pots in a warm, sunny position and where space is limited, there are several varieties that are suitable for growing in hanging baskets. Care of tomatoes is fairly easy through the summer months and the main thing is to keep the plants constantly moist at the roots and fed with a high potash fertiliser when the fruits are developing and ripening. Bush and basket varieties need no pinching out, but tomatoes being grown as a single stem, or cordon need to have side-shoots pinched out to maintain the single stem.

By now tomatoes being grown under cover should be making good growth and setting fruit, but there is still time to plant young plants in containers for growing outside over summer. The outdoor crop will probably be smaller, but the taste of their fruits as they ripen in late summer is just as good.

Take care of roses

Attention now will ensure a second display of blooms

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Roses may need a little more attention than some ornamental plants, but the blooms they repay us with make it all worthwhile. Your roses will be producing their first flush of blooms by now, and will require some TLC so that they thrive for the rest of the season.

Repeat flowerers, which produce a further display of blooms throughout summer, need encouraging to display their second blooms by feeding now with a boosting fertiliser such as David Austin rose food. This will have lots of potash and magnesium, among other things, which are fantastic for improving flower size and colour.

Follow this with good watering to activate the feed and then add a cooling mulch to the roots to retain moisture.

Patio roses growing in pots and tubs should also be fed regularly as they’ll be putting all their energy into flowering through the summer. It may be easier to use a liquid tomato feed, high in potash, which will get straight to the roots. Deadhead your roses regularly (except for beautiful hip-forming species such as Rosa rugosa) to encourage a better display.

Consider disbudding Hybrid Tea roses to encourage larger blooms – this means removing extra flower buds forming alongside the main flower, so energy is focussed on this star bloom.

Plant a bevy of beans

And be rewarded with lovely leaves, pretty blooms and tasty crops

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Short of taking on an allotment to squeeze in all the lovely bean varieties available, which can take up lots of space, you can in fact grow beans on any plot. The beauty of beans is that you can even grow them well in containers – they really are so easy to grow, given just a little care and attention. There really is no better than a fresh bean from the garden to add a summer flourish to salads, and their ornamental wow factor is enormous too – lovely leaves and gorgeous red or white bean flowers make a real impact on the patio.

You can still sow beans directly now, for another few weeks or so, but a good quality range of pre-grown bean plants are a good way to go, to speed up harvest time, and to reduce your workload in the garden if you need to.

As for good sources of bean plants, try Rocket Gardens (www.rocketgardens.co.uk, tel: 01326 222169) for a selection of gourmet beans and peas, which includes borlotti and French climbing beans. Marshalls (www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk, tel: 0844 557 6700) do some splendid yellow and purple dwarf French beans that need no staking. Suttons (www.suttons.co.uk, tel: 0844 326 2200) offer dwarf runner bean Jackpot Mix, which grows a multi-coloured array of pink, white and red flowers on compact plants, and has a high yield of beans. You can be harvesting these tasty beans from July, right up until October.

Propagate streptocarpus

Take leaf cuttings now to get several new plants

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Streptocarpus make excellent pot plants for the house, conservatory or greenhouse and over recent years many new and exciting varieties have been introduced. These have been bred to have a long flowering season on compact plants. To succeed, streptocarpus like good light conditions, but not bright sunshine, as this can quickly scorch the foliage. If growing in a conservatory or greenhouse shade the plants to create dapple shade from May to September. In the house grow them on a north or east facing windowsill. With regular deadheading and feeding with a high potash fertiliser, you will have a wonderful display of flowers for many months.

A very simple way to propagate your favourite streptocarpus is by taking leaf cuttings in early summer. It looks a little strange, but it works well. Once prepared, insert the cut leaves into compost where new roots will develop from the cut veins, followed by clusters of new, tiny plants along the base of the old leaf.  When an inch or two tall, they can carefully be divided and potted to grow on in small pots.  

When propagating this way, always choose a new, healthy leaf as old leaves do not root as quickly. From one leaf you can produce several new plants and, of course, they’ll all be identical to the parent plant.

Prune spring flowering clematis

Spring-flowering varieties need a chop.

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Spring flowering clematis are always a welcome sight with their scrambling habit and masses of flowers. There are several different types of clematis that flower in spring such as the very popular Clematis montana that flowers through May with white, pale pink or deep pink flower, depending on which cultivar you are growing. Other spring flowering types include the lovely Clematis alpina and C. macropetala, both of which have bell-shaped flowers in various shades of blue and C. armandii, a vigorous evergreen variety with its dark green glossy foliage and small saucer-shaped flowers in early spring.

All of the spring flowering types produce their flowers on the previous season’s growth and are in flowering group 1, which means any pruning is carried out after flowering. This then gives the plant all summer to make new growth that will flower next spring. These early types also tend to be vigorous and in just a few years they can grow into a very large plant, so a little annual pruning at this time of the year will help to keep the plant manageable and under control. For annual pruning to maintain a shape or the size of the plant, aim to cut back the old flowered wood, but if the plant is getting a little too large, prune back a little harder.

Using nematodes on fruit and vegetables

Be on the lookout for pests now and apply as soon as you spot them.

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With warmer weather and moist soils, fruit and vegetables should be growing well in the garden. Good growing condition are also the ideal conditions for many pests such as slugs, caterpillars, cutworms, carrot root fly and gooseberry sawfly, all of which if not controlled can ruin our crops very quickly. With the lack of chemical controls and the desire to grow our food as naturally as possible, many people are turning to the use of beneficial nematodes to help control garden pests on fruit and vegetables. Nematodes are microscopic creatures that cause no harm to the plants while searching for their pray. Once found they infect the slug, caterpillar or larvae with bacteria that causes infection and death. They are used to control the pest when it’s present on the plant and are not preventative. To work, the nematodes need the pests to be active on the plant or in the soil, otherwise they will simply die. There are various nematodes available, some such as slug killer are specific to molluscs, where as other are mixed using several different nematodes to help control a wide range of pests. Apply the nematode solution as a drench to moist soil or as a spray as soon as the pest is spotted and repeat through the growing season as directed on the instructions.