August in the garden
It’s been a strange year for us gardeners and garden lovers, with an early flush of hot weather in spring and fluctuating temperatures with very little rain through the summer months, we’re not the only ones who’ve had a tough time through 2020.
Our plants and gardens have brought much joy to us through these challenging lockdown months providing a space to relax and enjoy the outdoors whether great or small and to experience the natural wonders of plant growth, which has been a little different this year with the unpredictable weather.
As we now head into August there is still plenty to be doing to keep our gardens going and I always find August to be one of the busiest months for us gardeners. The borders, lawns, and hedges are still growing, whilst deadheading and reinvigorating plants for the remaining summer months is still an important procedure. Lots to do, so here are a few of the jobs we will be tackling over the next few weeks.
Prune lavender hard
Sadly, the glorious time for the fragrant inflorescences of Lavender has passed. It can be all so tempting to leave on the still slightly coloured flower heads that the bees love so much. Though this in the long run can shorten you Lavender’s life.
To avoid woody leggy lavender plants, Lavender should be cut at least once a year, we tend to prune twice. Once now when the plants have finished flowering and again in March when new growth begins, this process of pruning twice a year assists with maintaining a bushy compact plant rather than a woody leggy one that we all too often see.
Cut back hard to a good compact shape but be sure to leave some new shoots on each stem. Lavender will often not regrow from bare wood. These new shoots will grow fast and provide an attractive and healthy cover to protect the plant in winter and provide the basis of next year’s display.
These images of Geranium are only 3 weeks apart after giving it a hard cut. A fresh mound of leaves have formed and new flowers are being produced.
Cut back tired perennials if not already done so
By now a lot of the early summer flowering herbaceous perennials have started going over such as Nepeta, Geranium, and Alchamilla. If you haven’t already taken your pruning tools to them for the Chelsea chop or Hampton Court hack, now is a great time to give them a trim. Their flowers have faded and the plants begin to look tired. However, under closer inspection, you will often find new basal growth coming from beneath. Take all old stems back to this basal clump and you will encourage a new lease of life.
Often Nepeta and Geranium will provide you with a luscious second flush of flowers and plants like Alchamilla will provide a fresh set of leaves to see you through till the frost adding colour and textures to often tired borders.
What have you got to lose, get cutting before it’s too late.
Trim and tidy up hedges
August is the month to cut all hedges and this not only prunes them and holds them to size and shape, but it also freshens up everything and restores a crispness that adds form to the garden for the coming months.
Dahlias are a great way to keep the colour coming from late summer right through until the 1st frosts. They come in all different shapes and sizes and often take some nurturing to get them to that 1st flower bud. All that caring doesn’t stop now. Deadheading the majority of your annuals and perennials will prolong their flowering period, concentrating their energy on producing new flowers to be pollinated rather than turning their energy to producing seed.
With Dahlias we often get asked, what is a bud and what’s a spent flower? Bud’s are round and bulbous whereas spent flowers are pointy and cone-shaped. Always prune back to a side shoot, even if this means taking a long stem out. The side shoots will quickly regrow and form sturdy new stems.
We are now coming up to the prime tomato harvesting period but it can still go wrong even at this late stage. Cracking and unripe tomatoes are a usual sight so to prevent this from happening, reduce your watering schedule unless it is very hot to reduce cracking but keep up your weekly feeding to maximise fruit and flower production.
Strip off the bottom half of the leaves on each plant. This will allow light and air in so the growing fruits get more sun to ripen and the extra air ventilation will reduce the risk of late disease. This can be continued until there are no leaves left at all and just your plump tomatoes turning a rich red colour.
Propagating new strawberry plants.
After your Strawberries stop producing their fruits, they put their energy into creating new plants by sending off ‘runners’. If you have young strawberry plants, it is best to cut these runners off, conserving their energy back into the roots. However, after about 4 years, strawberry plant production rapidly declines. Having a free supply of fresh new plants, ready in autumn can keep you summer stocks replenished year after year.
Pin the runners down into the soil or a small pot of compost and it will begin to root. It doesn’t take long for new roots to form and the runner can now be separated from the mother plant. By the end of August, you should have a fresh new strawberry plant ready to produce the following summer.
Feeding and watering Camellias, Rhododendrons and Azaleas
We all love the mass flowering display of our Camelias, Rhododendrons, and Azaleas in Spring, but, you may not know that it is in late summer and autumn that these plants form their flower buds. If they are not cared for now then often their buds can fail to form properly and fall off in spring just when you’re expecting that mass of colour. By feeding with a good ericaceous feed and giving them a good soak from now through to autumn you are assisting that vital bud formation that the plant needs.
Starting lawn preparations
September is generally the month we start our lawn preparations for the following summer. By doing this now gives new and existing grasses time to recover and establish before winter and is ready to jump into action when spring arrives. Often this aeration, scarification, and the overseeding process are left until the spring which can weaken the grass sward making it more susceptible to disease such as Red Thread and also leaves it struggling to catch up in time for summer.
We start the process by applying a selective herbicide to the lawns now, which will slowly kill the major broadleaf weeds. In a couple of weeks, we can then apply a turf hardener/moss killer which strengthens any grass blades ready for the winter and kill off any moss which becomes more active when light levels are low and moisture is more available.
By September, the weed killer will have taken its toll and it is time to aerate and scarify followed by overseeding and top dressing if necessary.