HOW quickly the months pass and here we are again in high summer. While many holidaymakers love the Cyprus sunshine, those with gardens here know that this is a time of high maintenance.
The lack of any appreciable rain during the winter and the incredibly hot weather in June meant that extra watering in gardens started much earlier than usual. Wells sometimes run dry around this time and as a result, some watering may have to be done using expensive town water, and any that you are able to save from jobs indoors.
Since the last real shortage of winter rain, we put buckets in our bathrooms to collect the first cold shower water to arrive in the bathroom, which is very useful for watering potted plants. Any watering should be done in the cool of the evening, and if you have a computerised watering system, then it can be set to operate during the night, when it will do most good, so keep checking your outlets to see that they are not furred up. Many plants thrive on humidity, and only grow well along the coast.
Frangipani, for instance, will not grow inland and bananas flourish on the coastal slopes around the Paphos area. It’s a case of choosing the right plants for your garden.
Some garden plants can look after themselves during this very hot period, having stored water in their fleshy stems. Those with silvery leaves do well too, as the little hairs on the reverse of the leaves cool the plants.
Leucophyllum frutescens, or the ‘Texas Ranger’, is ideal for hot gardens, as the name would suggest. Any passing shower of rain or high humidity will cause the pretty rose-pink flowers to burst open.
In my garden, I grow a ground cover plant called Chrysanthemoides, which always looks cool. This Australian sourced plant is enhanced by yellow, daisy-like flowers during the late summer and into winter. Some gazanias have grey felted leaves too and the ubiquitous ‘Lamb’s Lugs’, Stachys byzantina, holds its own now.
Carpobrotus edulis, better known as Aphrodite’s Tresses here, but more widely known as the Hottentot fig, is another good plant. The stems swell in the winter rains to sustain the plant during the summer heat. I am always recommending that it should be grown over unsightly walls or instead of grass under trees or bordering paths.
Aeonium arboreum is another plant that can endure hot weather, but by the end of the summer may look shrivelled and weary. After a few autumn showers, it will perk up again. So, plan to include a few of these good plants in your in the autumn.
Pot plants are vulnerable and do need your assistance. Using slow release fertiliser and water granules in the potting compost mix helps here, and if it is possible, move them into some shade for the next couple of months, and they may survive.
Pelargoniums are excellent pot plants originally from South Africa, but even they need some moisture occasionally. Moving pots onto a tray of small stones or pebbles in the shade, and watering them there, can also help plants. Remember that just as many plants die from being over-watered, as under-watered.
Annuals, with tiny roots near to the surface, suffer the most during this period and die off quickly, but their seeds will be scattered around the area close by, giving early flowers in the spring. Weeds with long taproots search out water far below, and you can see them thriving in fields lying empty after the harvest.
Insects are still around and with citrus fruit finished for the moment, Med Flies will home in on nectarines and peaches. Hang some of those sticky yellow cards from any garden centre or DIY store among your fruit trees.
The Asian Citrus Leaf Minor has certainly been around in our garden, greatly disfiguring new growth on the citrus leaves. Once these little grubs have burrowed inside the leaves, then it is too late to do anything about them. The trees should be sprayed early in the season to keep the moth that lays them away.
Climbers like hoya and stephanotis are soaring skywards, as are the lovely Mandevilla splendens in pinks, reds and whites, so make sure that they have some support so that they can climb away. Jasminum grandiflorum and Cestrum nocturnum, known as ‘Pakistani Nights’ because of its heady perfume, scent the night air and if you have planted them near a window or door, then you will enjoy their perfumes wafting in on the evening breezes.
If you live in a rural area, keep a look out for any young snakes during these hot summer months. They like to lie on warm stones and drowse in the heat. They can also lurk under bushes and shrubs, so take care when clearing out old leaves from beneath them.
Add those dead leaves to your compost bins along with salads, veggies and dead flower heads but make sure that the layers are not too deep or compacted. It greatly benefits the heap if you turn it over occasionally but it is not a job for a hot day!
By autumn, the contents should be ready to dig into your beds. Keep deadheading and as the flowers turn to seeds remember that a lot of them are far from nice! In fact, a lot of them are downright poisonous! Every part of oleander can be harmful and lantana berries, which look like ripe blackberries, are toxic. Berries of the pretty yellow oleander (thevetia) are poisonous too.
Holiday times can be difficult here when houses are left empty periodically. There are many opportunist thieves about but if you make it difficult for them, by locking away expensive garden furniture and equipment, they might just pass your garden by. Put your name or a code word known only to you somewhere on them. If you have expensive pots or ornaments in your garden, take a photograph of them. Filling the bottom of the pots with big rocks, as you plant them up, may hinder any thieves who try to remove them, although in some places in the UK, people return from their holiday to find that their lawns having been rolled up and taken away!
Enjoy the summer and don’t try to do too much in the garden, just keep it ticking over. It can all wait until the weather beings to cool down, which according to local custom should be after Maria’s Assumption on August 15. So try to keep cool until then!
PLANT OF THE MONTH – Epiphyllum crenatum
Epiphyllum crenatum is a member of the cactus family and was originally discovered in Central America. First collected in Honduras in 1838 on behalf of Sir Charles Lemon, an epiphyllum plant was exhibited at the Royal Horticultural Society Garden in 1844, where it won the medal for a new introduction. It is commonly known as ‘Orchid Cactus’, ‘Queen of the night’ or ‘Crenate Orchid Cactus’.
Spineless epiphytic plants are unlike other cacti found in semi-arid places, as they have adapted to grow among leaf litter on branches of trees in tropical forests. In cooler climates than ours, they are generally regarded as houseplants or grown in greenhouses, but in Cyprus, they can be grown out of doors, if they are sheltered from the hot summer sun and there is enough humidity to resemble their natural habitat. They are easy to grow tolerating neglect, and actually need to be exposed to 10 to 15C in winter for a couple of weeks, to force the blooms.
Temperatures any lower than that will kill the plant. Extra light in the early spring will stimulate budding. The white, heavily-scented flowers appear in late spring or early summer, usually opening during the evening and may last for only one day. In the Far East, Chinese people regard these plants as extremely lucky, so that when they come into bloom, their gambling habits come to the fore and they rush off and back their favourite racehorses.
Although epiphyllums need more water than the average cacti plant, overwatering can kill them, so allow the soil, similar to that used for orchids or bromeliads, to dry slightly between waterings. This easily cultivated, fast growing epiphyte, is easy to propagate by stem cuttings, which should be taken in spring or summer.
Make a clean cut on plump new growth and allow the end to callus over for a couple of days, just like other cactus and succulents. Push the callused end into clean, moderately moist potting soil and place the container in bright indirect light keeping the soil misted. It can take three to six weeks for the cutting to root.
During the growing season (March-August), water the plants on a regular basis, making sure that they never dry out completely. Fertilise them on a monthly basis with a balanced fertilizer (all the same numbers) during this period.
In late August, restrict water to about once a week until January or February, when watering should be stopped for a period of four weeks, to aid flower formation. In March, regular watering can be resumed and the plant will flower in six to eight weeks time. However, care should be taken once the flowers buds are formed, as changes of temperature or situation may cause the buds to drop.