By Patricia Jordan
The Royal Horticultural Society in the UK suggests slugs and snails should no longer be classed as pests, despite the fact that the organisation has the most complaints about them! These slimy marauders are actually misunderstood, because only nine of the 44 recognised species of slugs in the UK eat garden plants. Instead, it is suggested that Britons should ‘gratefully accept’ the gastropods and see them as ‘helpers’, because they recycle dead leaves and other plant matter that would otherwise pile up. Andrew Salisbury, the charity’s principal entomologist, said that they play an important role in planet-friendly gardening and maintaining a healthy ecosystem as well as being a food store for hedgehogs and birds. It was suggested that ‘sacrificial’ plants could be planted nearby and then they might leave the rest alone. We’ll see!
Moving on, there are lots of wonderful plants to buy at this time of year. Garden centres have so many plants on their benches to attract the customer, which are more often than not at their maximum growth and attractiveness, or why would you want them?
Those who have gardened for many years like me, look over the plants very carefully before buying and more often than not buy those that have not reached their maximum growth with lots of new stems appearing from around the root area or flowers still in bud.
What attracts you to a particular plant? Is it the colour or perfume, or perhaps the shape of the flowers? Are you buying because it is the newest addition on the market and you want it because you will be ahead of the fashion and have that little gem before your neighbours? Do you have a place to put it in your garden or did you buy it on a whim imaging that you can fit it in somewhere? Did you take its growing conditions into consideration at all? What kind of soil do you have in your garden? Have you ever had it tested so that you can know which flowers will survive in your plot? You can adjust the soil by adding chemicals, so that you are able to grow such tricky plants as hydrangeas or gardenias. I always advise newcomers to walk around their village or streets and see what is established there and flourishes in the local gardens.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
The foliage of spring bulbs along with that of nerines (my joy in the autumn garden), may still be around but don’t be tempted to pull them all off until the leaves are quite dead, as the bulbs are making the new flowers with their help for next season, before they hibernate underground until the autumn. Tiny cyclamen flowers will have finished too, but leave the seed heads on. As the seeds ripen ants will carry them off and in time tiny new plants may appear all over the garden, which is a delight! You may find that hyacinths left in the ground year after year will eventually have shorter flower stems with less and less flowers on them. Of course if you feed the bulbs after the flowers have faded, you may get another year or so out of them, but if they are flowerless then replacement is the only answer, so plan to buy fresh bulbs in the autumn.
Start a regular regime now for feeding plants, especially roses, which greatly benefit from a regular feeding routine from now on if they are to flower all summer long. Rosa banksia is looking gorgeous at the moment, and is a trouble-free rose. Others, like the sweetly smelling Rosa damascena, sometimes have rust on the reverse of their leaves. Hollyhocks also suffer from this so try the following remedy to deal with this problem. Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1/2 tablespoon oil to a cup of warm water and stir until the soda dissolves. Mix with a couple of litres of warm water and after removing the worst affected leaves, spray the affected plants in the morning, before the sun is too hot.
There are many fuchsia plants around again as they become more popular. However they cannot cope with our summers, unless grown at higher elevations, where it is not as warm and humid as the coastal strip. You would be lucky to keep hydrangeas going as well, as they take a breather in high summer too.
Pot plants, which should have had the soil refreshed by now or even re-potted, also benefit from regular feeding. Remember that even decent potting composts have only a limited amount of nutriments in them – six weeks at most – so if plants are going to be left in pots all summer long then they will need something extra in the form of a slow-release fertiliser. Most plant foods come with recommendations on the pack for feeding and potted plants can easily be fed with a soluble feed like Phostrogen as you water. If you have lawns take a good look at them and scarify them first – dragging a thin tined rake over the surface to remove the debris at the roots – and then feed with a good lawn fertiliser for a green sward later on.
Plant up hanging baskets now or if you don’t want to do that, garden centres usually have a wonderful choice. Hanging baskets is a misnomer these days, as most are made of plastic. Previously they were made of wire mesh, which would be padded or lined with moss or a thick material into which you could make holes to insert small plantlets. Of course, these open baskets may leak when wet, so if you don’t want a mess, then the plastic ones would suit you better, as they usually have a saucer attached to the bottom to catch any drips. Watering baskets can be a problem especially if they are hanging high up. Lifting them down carefully and dunking them in a large bucket or bowl of water is one way to do this job. Remember that they can double in weight when watered, so ensure that the hook or rail they are hanging from is secure. There is such a choice of plants that will grow in hanging baskets including mixing and matching different varieties. Ivy-leaved pelargoniums look amazing as they tumble over the sides of the basket and petunias in various colours make a pretty picture.
Don’t sow any more seeds or take cuttings from now on until the autumn. The resulting plantlets will struggle to cope with the increasing heat. Annual plants show off their best in the spring and fade and die as soon as the temperatures soar because their roots are close to the surface. This is why you need shrubs and perennial plants to fill the borders when the annuals have finished. You can plant summer salads, tomatoes and sweet corn plugs now that the danger of low night temperatures has passed. Remember that sweet corn plugs should be planted in grids, as they are pollinated by the wind.
Many sweet peas are in flower already. I love growing heritage sweet peas like ‘Painted Lady’ and ‘Matucana’, which are very close to the wild sweet pea and probably brought here by British gardeners at the end of the 1800s. The dainty highly-scented flowers of crimson and violet are delightful. All sweet peas like to grow in rich well-drained soil.
Now that the weather is relatively warm, watch out for green flies and black flies on your plants. If you grow the silver leaved artemisia you may find swarms of black flies have landed on the stems. Early roses are often affected by greenflies, and they may be found on some citrus leaves as well. If you are not squeamish then you can take them off with a latex-gloved hand or use a soapy water spray. Obstinate pests may need chemical treatments, which I am always reluctant to use if there is an alternative.
Plant of the Month – Dahlias
Dahlias are herbaceous perennial plants, natives of Mexico and Central America. Summer wouldn’t be summer without dahlias. Their beautiful flowers come in almost every colour imaginable, from pale pastels to hot, vibrant shades, in a range of flower shapes – small pom- pom balls to waterlily-like blooms the size of dinner plates.
Dahlias are available in a range of many different sizes. The dwarf varieties can be grown as bedding; more compact varieties grow very well in pots, whilst Dahlia imperialis, known as ‘Tree dahlias’ can reach 5m tall, so do need some space. All modern dahlias were bred from this impressive dahlia. There are around eight different shapes of dahlias from the small single ones, to huge cactus dahlias and ‘in your face’ decorative dahlias with such wonderful colour schemes. Bees prefer the open-faced small flowers, as they are easier to penetrate.
Dahlias require a fertile, moist but well-drained soil in a sunny, sheltered spot. The taller varieties may need staking. In autumn, dig up the tubers and over-winter them somewhere dry.