Plant up citrus in pots

Add zesty fruit and colour to your late summer garden.

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Citrus fruit is easier to grow than you think, and brings a slice of sunnier climes to your patio on a balmy summer evening. The scent of the fruit, leaves and flowers is more than enough to tempt you to grow them in a pot!

Well-established plants are available now from online garden centres or down your local nursery, and can be planted up as a late addition to your summer pot collection in shelter and bright sunshine. Plant using a special citrus compost such as those made by Levington or Westland, or use a John Innes no.2 improved with grit. Use an ericaceous version if you have hard water. Pop your pot outdoors until around late September, when you can keep it as a lovely feature in a conservatory or greenhouse at a minimum of 10C through winter, though calamondins need a little higher. Hardy oranges and certain lemons and limes can tolerate a lot lower temperatures, but newly planted they’ll appreciate a bit of protection until they mature further.

Water well and feed during the summer, and then use a balanced feed and water less through winter. As for pruning, they simply need a reshape in spring before going outside to enjoy the summer again!

Plant perennials for late-summer colour

Pop a few in now to brighten up your borders.

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In late summer some gardens can start to look a little tired and ‘end of season’, especially after a period of hot, dry weather. Many summer-flowering perennials are starting to go over and borders can start to look short of colour and interest.

That doesn’t have to be the case though, and by introducing a selection of different plants into the border it’s very easy to extend the flowering season and keep the garden colourful and interesting right the way through until early autumn.

At this time of the year nurseries, garden centres and exhibitors at shows have a good selection of late summer-flowering plants that can be planted straight into the garden. These hardy perennials will add instant colour to the garden and by next year when they’ve bulked up they’ll create an even better display.

Although the main planting time for perennials is spring or autumn, it’s perfectly fine to plant in August, if you prepare the ground and keep the plants watered to help them establish. Fork over the area where you’re planting and mix in a little general fertiliser and garden compost to improve the soil. Water the plants in their pots before planting, and after they’re planted in the border, give them a good water to encourage root growth.  

Summer prune apples

A trim now will keep your tree neat and encourage more fruit.

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To help keep apple trees to a manageable size, healthy and fruiting they do require some pruning, and this is done in winter or summer.

Winter pruning tends to be formative pruning to create a shape and also to thin out weak and congested growth to keep the trees open. Summer pruning is done to reduce the long new growth made this growing season to maintain the shape of the tree.

It’s mainly done on trained apples trees such as cordons, espaliers and step-overs and by cutting back the new growth it keeps a neat shape and diverts energy into the developing fruits. This type of pruning is also sometimes called spur pruning, because you cut back to just an inch or two to create short growths known as spurs. It’s on the spurs that fruit will develop next year.

Bush and standard apple trees can also be summer pruned to prevent them from growing too tall or wide, and again this consists of cutting back the new growths by half or two thirds, or in some situations where the tree needs restricting, you can spur prune.

Summer pruning is normally done in August as little new growth will be made after this and also to allow time for flower buds to start and develop for next spring.

Take extra care when planting

Drought conditions means the ground's tough to crack.

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A drought is not the best time to buy and plant new stock in the ground. Container plants are always tempting, so preferably continue investing in these to brighten the garden! However, if you’re one of those people who can’t resist the temptation to keep planting (like most of us here at Garden News!), remember that it’s even more important to prepare your planting site well now.

Dig an extra large hole and incorporate some moist potting or garden compost, and sprinkle in a little Growmore to encourage root development. Mulching with a thick layer of organic material such as bark, compost or well-rotted manure will help to keep the roots cool until the heat finally subsides.

Watering is the most essential task, though. Soak the roots of your plant as soon as it’s been planted and make sure it’s topped up – every day if necessary, until it gets established. If you’re planting in a sunny site, you might need to shade your plant for a few weeks with some netting, or a net curtain.

Keep a beady eye on all your newly planted things in this weather – it’ll take a bit more care to see them through but it’ll be worth it.

Plant a pot that bees will love

Give pollinators a late-summer treat with a bright container.

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It’s got to that point in the summer where you’ve got most of your plants in, and you’ve tried to keep everything going despite less rain – but maybe you’ve done a quick survey and noticed a little more colour could be squeezed into the garden? Not only that, have you provided enough for butterflies and bees? Well, if you’re lacking in suitable pollinator plants, it’s a good excuse to get planting now!

Bees are always under pressure to find enough pollen and nectar, and streamlined, landscaped gardens, farm fields or grass verges stripped of useful flowers, or gardens planted with only foliage or sterile blowsy bedding can play a part. The recent hot weather means bees get tired and expend more energy, so help them out so they don’t have to fly far to get more sustenance. 

Don’t think your plot’s too small for some helpful bee plants – you can always pop some in a pot! Take a trip to the garden centre and watch what the bees land on; simply pick the blooms they love. Use a good multi-purpose compost, and keep the pot watered well – once the plants die down in autumn, any perennials that have gone over can be planted out in the garden. Kill two birds with one stone – bring bright patio flower power to your plot, and help our friendly bees!

Last chance to sow!

Start more crops now and you can harvest for the rest of the year.

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It’s around now that you’ll start to think about wrapping up your plot’s growing season, turning your attention fully to harvesting. The work will slow down and you’ll notice a change of pace as you descend into late summer. However, it’s not over till it’s over! It’s last chance saloon for a number of crops that you can still sow now, with a view to harvesting them in a couple of months or so.

There are plenty of herbs that can still be sown now for use in a few weeks – basil and dill can be grown in pots for late summer and autumn use, and can then be brought inside when the weather turns. Chervil and parsley on the other hand, sown now, will be excellent herbs to pop by the back door outside to harvest through winter.

Mizuna, mustard and rocket will be good additions to salads, sown every couple of weeks or so, through the rest of summer, autumn and beyond. Elsewhere on the plot, this is another reminder to get your Christmas potatoes planted now, for harvesting in late autumn and through December.

Prepare lawns for rain!

Yes, we will get some again, so make sure your grass is ready for it.

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A well-maintained lawn helps to set off the planting in beds and borders and provides an open space of cool green! However, this summer with the prolonged period of hot dry weather lawns in gardens across the country have suffered, especially where the soil is free draining. Instead of a lush, green sward, many lawns have dried out and turned brown. Watering lawns to keep them green uses a great deal of water and it encourages shallow roots that are more prone to drought and cold conditions in winter. By not watering, the roots will grow deeper in search of water and although the grass may brown off a little, in the long term it will produce a stronger lawn. Fortunately, grass has great powers of recovery, and soon starts to green up after a few showers of rain.      

To help lawns recover after a drought there are several things that we can do to get the grass growing again. Weeds that continued to grow in the dry weather can be dealt with by hand weeding or by spot treating them with a selective lawn weed killer. A light scarify and spiking will also remove dead material and allow rain to soak in and finally, when the soil is moist and the grass is starting to green up, you can give it a feed.   

Take clematis cuttings now

It's so simple to do and will reward you with new plants.

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Clematis are one of the most popular climbing plants in our gardens and their flowers come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from small bell-shaped to large blousy blooms. By planting a selection of different species and varieties, it’s possible to have them in flower for most of the year, including the winter months.

Most types can be propagated by cuttings taken at this time of the year. Unlike a conventional cutting that’s taken using the tip of the stem, with clematis several cuttings can be made from one of the long stems, and instead of trimming the cutting below a leaf joint or node, we make the cut between the node to produce what is known as an inter-nodal cutting.

Preparing the cuttings is very simple and all you do is trim immediately above a pair of leaves and then approximately 2.5-5cm (1-2in) below. It’s the stem below the leaves and buds that’s inserted into the compost to root and once roots have developed, the two buds at the top will grow to form a new plant.

In order for the cuttings to root, they need to be kept moist and in humid conditions to prevent the foliage from drying out. A small propagator stood in a shady part of the greenhouse is ideal for this.   

Manage your crops

Make the most of what you've grown so far by managing crops well.

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High summer is all about surveying all your hard work on your fruit and veg patch, enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done through the year, harvesting plenty of lovely produce – but also managing crops well as they continue to grow so they reach their potential.

Keep your beady eye on anything amiss – pest damage, dry compost, weed growth, and tend to them little and often so the jobs don’t seem like chores. And water well!

Tomatoes, squashes and other fruiting crops need continual feeding every week – always write down when you feed your plants; time flies when you’re having fun and before you know it, it’ll have been longer than it should have been since you last gave them a feed!

Keep up the harvesting and get creative in the kitchen to use up gluts – see our Homegrown page at the back of your Garden News each week to get some great ideas. Usually the more you harvest, the more will grow. You can start saving veg seed for next year from your plants now they’re flowering and fruiting, too.

If all this fertiliser is a strain on your wallet, think about making your own comfrey tea now, which is a rich source of nutrients and completely free if you grow it in your garden – if not, source some from a neighbour. Rot down its chopped leaves in a lidded container with some water for a few weeks.

Best of all, try and sit and enjoy your garden in summer – you spend a lot of time on it, so relax and enjoy its charms in high season. 

Prune early summer flowering shrubs

Keep them healthy and tidy with a timely trim.

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In June and early July summer flowering shrubs such as the lovely scented philadelphus and floriferous kolkwitzia, deutzia and weigela make a great show in the garden. If not pruned, after several years all of these shrubs can get too tall or wide and take up too much room in the border.

To keep the shrubs to a manageable size, healthy and flowering, a little annual pruning should be done after the blooms have subsided. With shrubs that are only a few years old, light pruning is done to create a bushy shape, but once the shrubs are four or five years old pruning is needed to control growth and also encourage flowers for the following summer.

The aim is to create a natural shape and keep the individual habit of the shrub being pruned. Philadelphus (mock orange blossom) tends to have an upright habit, whereas kolkwitzia (beauty bush), is rounded and more spreading. The general rule when pruning is to cut out as much of the old wood that has flowered and reduce the size by around one third. This is best done by cutting out flowered stems back to a side shoot, rather than trimming the bush all over.    

Where shrubs are crowded and overgrown, you may need to prune heavier by taking out some old stems at ground level to encourage new growth. 

Help summer garden wildlife

They're feeling the heat as well so leave food and water out for them.

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It’s been a lovely summer for weather, but if we feel uncomfortable and thirsty in the warm weather it’s likely our friendly garden wildlife are feeling the effects just as we do. Water supplies are depleted and confusing temperature fluctuations are challenging. And all the while many are trying to raise their young with lack of food and water – it’s sometimes down to us to give a helping hand.

Natural water sources are drying up, and it’s easy to overlook bird baths and ponds that have evaporated in the sunshine – keep them filled and you may get yourself a lovely display of birds washing, drinking and preening!

Many hedgehogs forage under hedges in moist leaf matter where slugs and other invertebrates usually hide, but the lack of rainfall means it’s all dry and snack-free – put out some meat-based dog or cat food (away from pets) for them. They also can’t reach bird baths, so always have a shallow dish of water at ground level topped up at all times.

Bees become exhausted in the heat or if their favourite plants are too few and far between, so pop a sugar and water solution – one part water to two parts sugar – onto a spoon or clean milk bottle lid and place around the garden to help them out.

We can never do enough for hungry bees and butterflies, so do your bit by adding at least one more plant that will feed them this summer, or add a new bee home to encourage a new generation.

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.