Climbers come to the fore
With temperatures rising even more rapidly, this is a difficult time in our gardens. In high summer plants scarcely grow and it is not a good time to plant anything new if you can avoid it. There are lots of wonderful new plants on the garden centre benches to tempt you and if you do succumb to buying any, check that they are damp before you bring them home and ensure that they are well watered before you plant them later on. It is tempting to plant in the early morning when everything is cooler and relatively rested, but the new plants will quickly have to endure the heat of the day and may not make it. It is always better do any work in the evenings after the sun is off your garden. You could of course dig the hole and give it a preliminary watering and then help the plant into its new home in the evening.
It’s interesting that many of the climbers that come to the fore this month have trumpet-shaped flowers, giving them the name ‘trumpet vines’. Perhaps the most popular trumpet vine here is Campsis radicans, originally from Virginia in America. It grows fast and climbs a mile a minute, so be careful where you plant it or it will take over. Mandevilla grows well here and lasts sometimes until October. Known in some places as the ‘Brazilian jasmine’, its bright pink, white or red blooms like a bright sunny spot, although it may need some protection from the very hot sun and like a lot of potted plants does not like to be over-watered. Podranea ricasoliana is a native of South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. It’s sweetly scented flowers top the abundant growth and this plant will need some support as growth is fast. It will last well into the autumn. Pandorea jasminoides (an anagram of Podranea – did you spot that?) is an Australian woody climber, originally inhabiting tropical rainforests, where its rampant growth allows the plant to reach the sunlight above the forest canopy. Here it can survive where there is some humidity. The evergreen foliage is a great foil to the showy flowers and pruning after flowering will restrain the growth somewhat. However, a warning: the root systems can travel far and wide and these plants should not be planted near any underground pipelines.
Some climbers like a little less sun, so are useful for growing on shaded verandas or patios. Hoya carnosa, sometimes known as the wax ‘plant’, has very fleshy leaves and extremely attractive pink star-shaped, night-scented flowers that appear on leafless spurs. When the flowers die, it is important not to cut off these spurs, as new flowers will appear in the same place next season. Growth can be as much as two metres, so it is important to give the plant a support or trellis for it to climb up. This is another plant that prefers not to be over-watered. Young plants of Stephanotis, originally from Madagascar, are usually sold with the green stems and thick, shiny foliage tightly wrapped around a circular wire frame. It is perhaps best to carefully remove them from this and insert a larger framework onto which they can twine. The highly-scented white waxy blooms will perfume the evening air.
THINGS TO DO IN THE GARDEN IN JULY
Several times a week I get up very early before there is any strength in the sun to tackle those ‘must do’ jobs at this time of year. Dead-heading pelargoniums, those ubiquitous plants found in many gardens and patios, is an almost daily task in order to keep them blooming and whilst you are doing that remove any dead leaves as well. Then give them a feed of Phostrogen once a week – one spoonful in 10 litres of water will feed several plants.
This is the time to deal with plumbago as the first flowers turn into sticky seed heads. By giving them a trim you will encourage them to throw out new growth and later flowers which will see you through to the autumn. If you have an Alyogyne tree (Australian Hibiscus) it is better to prune the thin branches now that it has made seeds, although I have never had any luck propagating them from seed. The same treatment fits Caesalpinia gilliesii and removing the heavy seed pods will protect the thin branches by reducing the weight on the tree, as well as encouraging new flowers to appear.
Another task is to prepare your irises for another fine display next year. Remove any flower stems as the plant will not flower from that point again and cut the remaining leaves to about 10cm. One of my gardening chums, who was head gardener at a National Trust property, used to cut them in an inverted v shape. When I asked him why he said that they look better in the borders and would soon be concealed by any taller plants. However, in my opinion it is necessary to allow the summer sun to bake the rhizome in order make flowers for next year. Remove any dead leaves by pulling them along the rhizome which will expose it to the sun and always plant irises facing into the sun for that very same reason. The general gardening rule is that after you have done such dramatic surgery to plants, then you should give them a feed to help boost growth and for irises that used to be a dose of bone meal. Nowadays it is difficult to get, so use a rose fertiliser instead – ‘Florlis’ is available here and a capful in 3 litres of water will help things along.
Favourite silver-leaved plants, like Stachys byzantinus, commonly known as ‘lambs ears’ do well now as their furry leaves protect the plant from the sun and the bees enjoy their minute purple-blue flowers. Another felted plant that I found on the benches here this year, which I had only seen in the UK before, is commonly called ‘angel wings’, a member of the Senecio family. Regarded as a sort of succulent, it can be grown inside as a pot plant or in the garden, as it is supposedly drought-tolerant. We shall see! The drama of the plant is in its heart-shaped wavy leaves, which can be up to 20cm across and not its insignificant yellow button-like flowers.
Plants at this time of year can be plagued by bugs. Hibiscus is particularly prone to mealy bugs. We have tried the following method of getting rid of them, but with limited success. Mix 3ml Movento and 30ml Insectoil Key in 5 litres of water and spray the offending mealy bugs under the leaves and stems where they hide. Keep a watch out over the next few days and it may be necessary to spray once more, but this should deal efficiently with them. We have tried many different applications to be rid of these pests over the years but have now reverted to a daily inspection squashing them between finger and thumb! In your orchard you may well find that the Asian Citrus Leaf Miner has invaded your citrus trees. This is caused by a tiny moth laying it eggs on the underside of the leaves, which hatch and burrow into the leaf distorting the growth. We tried the old fashioned way of hanging moth balls amongst the branches to keep off the moths, but without much success.
Plant of the Month – Fuchsia
Fuchsias are generally classed as small shrubs and although regarded as a European plant where they can be grown indoors or outdoors, they started life on the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola. They belong to the Onagraceae family, which includes evening primroses as well as gaura, much seen in mass planting here these days. They generally grow up to 30cm although they can be standardised and reach greater heights. There are many species of fuchsia, although the ones we have started to see here in recent years are hybrids, of which there are many thousands!
Fuchsias thrive best in humidity, so if you live in a dry climate, misting your plants should keep them sufficiently moist, although they prefer their roots to be moist but not soggy. Test the surface of the soil before adding more water. They have become popular pot plants here and are ideal for hanging baskets or planters, being much admired for their hanging, bell-shaped, bi-coloured flowers that look like colourful dancing skirts and sometimes referred to as ‘ladies’ eardrops’. The flowers appearing on new growth last all summer long and there are thousands of varieties available, in shades of white, pink, magenta, purple and red. Feed them regularly throughout the season with diluted liquid fertiliser.
Planters and hanging baskets with fuchsias thrive better in a semi-shaded position, despite their origins. An added bonus of these interesting plants is that the flowers can be crystallised and used to decorate cakes and desserts.