Prolonging blooms, relishing the first of your homegrown crops and spending time amongst nature; all things worth making the most of this month according to Head Gardener Ashley.
August is often a time we go abroad on holidays, but with many of us staying home this year, it is the perfect time to appreciate the garden.
This month is all about flowering and ripening; many plants will begin to slow their vegetative growth as the transition into Autumn is on the horizon.
The garden will likely be full of colour and to keep your displays going for as long as possible, deadhead spent blooms and keep plants fed and watered, especially if they are in containers. It is important to remove any seed pods that develop on annuals such as sweetpeas or pelargoniums to keep them looking their best.
Dead heading perennials such as Salvia and Geranium will encourage a fresh flush of flowers which should get you through autumn. Cutting back perennials that have gone over will also allow for later flowering plants such as Michaelmas daisies, Coreopsis and Helenium to take centre stage. Watch out for powdery mildew at this time of year and cut back any plants severely affected to reduce the spread. Do not put this material in your compost heap as the spores can survive and reinfect next year. Trim or clip hedges and topiary into shape. The risk of disturbing bird nests is reduced in August, but do check before cutting.
Now is an ideal time to take semi-ripe cuttings from trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants in the garden. Salvia species are easy to take cuttings from and as the plants do not always survive the wet winters, it’s good to have cuttings as back up for next Spring.
Looking forwards to spring, you should start to think about your spring bulb orders. Order top ups of tulips and think about which new colours you’d like to incorporate. If you order early, you’ll get the best quality bulbs. You can also start to sow many hardy annuals like cornflowers, Calendula and poppies now, which will provide colour next year.
Watering is particularly important now, at what is usually the hottest part of the year. Water in cooler mornings or evenings and give the base of the plants a really good soak. This will encourage roots to grow deep down into the soil where they have better access to moisture and cooler temperatures. Watering little and often will encourage shallow roots, which will leave the plant more susceptible to drying out as evaporation occurs in the thin topsoil. Watering at the base of the plant and avoiding leaf splash also reduces the risk of scorching and fungal diseases such as black spot, rust and powdery mildew.
To conserve water, try using grey recycled water (making sure it does not contain harmful chemicals) where possible or stored rainwater if you have any. If you find yourself running around with the hosepipe during summer heat waves, consider choosing plants that are drought tolerant and apply a thick layer of mulch in spring to lock in as much moisture as possible. If your lawn starts to turn brown, do not panic! It will soon bounce back with the autumn rain.
In the vegetable garden you hopefully have bountiful harvests! Enjoy the fruits of your labour and share with friends and family if you have gluts. You can make preserves of fruit crops to be enjoyed over winter. Chop up and freeze herbs like basil, chives, mint and others for use over winter. If you place into olive oil in ice cube trays and then freeze, they can be easily added into your cooking when you need them. Regularly harvest tomatoes to encourage the green ones to ripen and take courgettes before they turn into giant marrows (unless that is what you’re going for of course!). Continue to feed your crops using an organic liquid fertilizer or your own homemade comfrey or nettle brew.
Watch out for late blight on tomatoes and potatoes. This starts as black/brown spots on leaves which then becomes black patches on the stems of the plant. Eventually the foliage collapses and the crop is spoilt. There isn’t a whole lot you can do if your plants get it apart from removing leaves that have been affected. You can remove fruits on tomatoes before they spoil and turn them into green chutney and harvest potatoes before they are infected. Do not put any diseased material into the compost heap as the spores will overwinter and infect your plants next year. Tomatoes grown under glass or in polytunnels are not as easily infected by blight.
You can start to sow crops which will take you through the autumn/winter such as lambs lettuce, Swiss chard, rocket, chicory, endive, spring cabbage, and radish. Some of these leafy crops will give you microgreens, so are perfect if you only have a windowsill as a growing space.
Start thinking about ordering garlic and onion sets for autumn planting. The earlier you order, the better quality sets you will receive.
Most importantly, make time to enjoy the sights, sounds and scents of your garden and feel the benefits of being outdoors.
Here’s to the beginning of a delicious harvest!