What To Do In The Garden In August

August 1st, 2017 | News | 0 Comments

August is the perfect time to sit back, relax and enjoy all your hard work in the garden. With everything in full swing, it is an opportunity to assess how your planting schemes have worked this season and think about what to order for next year’s display – look out for Mr Fothergill’s 2018 seed catalogue, mailing soon.

Gardening tasks have a maintenance focus this month to make the most of your summer displays and produce before the busy autumn period kicks in September.

Holiday Garden Care

With schools holidays in full swing, many of us will be setting off on our summer breaks. Plans need to be put in place to ensure plants are catered for while you are away. If you can’t call on a neighbour to keep an eye on things, try these top tips to keep your garden ticking over while away:

  • Move pots and baskets into the shade.
  • Remove all flowers from summer bedding to slow down their water intake and prevent them running to seed. New buds should be in bloom by the time you return.
  • Mow the lawn but set the blades higher than normal. Longer grass copes better in dry weather.
  • Pick all ripe fruit and vegetables, storing or freezing them for use on your return.
  • Top up ponds and water features.
  • Spend some time weeding before you set off so the garden isn’t overrun on your return.
  • Water the garden heavily just before you set off, particularly pots and baskets.
  • If possible set up an automatic irrigation system for your pot plants.
  • Give prized pot plants their own holiday – if friends can’t make it your garden, ask them to take on a few of your favourite pots in their garden.

Lush lavender

Give lavender plants a light trim as flowers fade. Use shears to remove flower stalks and up to a third of foliage growth. This will keep growth compact, preventing the plants from turning woody and bare, which can be a problem with neglected plants.

Hanging baskets

Upkeep and maintenance are more important now than ever if you wish to get the longest show from your summer hanging baskets, as plants will quickly run to seed and start to fade if you let them.

  • Keep compost consistently moist by continuing to water daily (twice a day in particularly hot spells)
  • Apply a weekly liquid feed – even if you used granular fertilisers when planting, as much of this will have been used by the plants by now.
  • While you are giving baskets a soak, pinch off finished flowers to keep plants tidy and productive.


Dry flower displays – turn your summer favourites into a later winter bouquet

Dried flowers are a bit of a forgotten art form, but with the rise of grow your own cut flowers in recent years, dried winter displays are coming back in vogue, and it couldn’t be simpler to make your own.
There are thousands of flowering garden plants to choose from for dried displays and it’s actually worth experimenting with everything in your garden to find out what makes the best-dried specimens.
As with fresh cut flowers, the trick is to collect stems when still in tight bud or just when flowers are starting to open.   Pick or cut them early in the day, as soon as any dew has dried – they will be at their lowest moisture content at this time, leading to quicker drying times.

Give stems a shake after collection, this will remove any lingering water droplets as well as any insects. Keep them out of direct sunlight to prevent them wilting.

No matter how many you collect they should be tied into small bunches of 6- 12 stems, larger bunches prevent air circulation around the buds which can lead to rotting.

The bunches should then be hung upside down (this keeps the stems straight) in a warm, dry, dark shed or garage. Depending on the type of flower, the drying process should take between two and six weeks. When fully dried the flowers should feel stiff and dry.

Houseplant holiday

August temperatures are perfect for moving houseplants outside for a week or two, where they will make the most of light levels.  Increase watering as the pots will dry out quicker in the summer sun. They will also benefit from summer showers, which will help to wash away dust from the foliage.

Strawberry care

Strawberry beds and planters can look a little unkempt at this time of year, but you can turn the mess into an opportunity. As plants finish fruiting they focus on sending out runners to create new plants. As you examine your plants you may already find runners that have rooted into the soil, just below a leaf join.

If this is the case you can carefully dig these up, snip the runner on either side of the leaf section and pot on the young plant for setting back in the soil in autumn, exactly where you want it to grow.

Alternatively, you can use garden wire to pin unrooted runners to the soil to encourage them to set roots, for lifting and potting up in autumn.

Summer lawn care

Mowing– this should be done weekly through summer, but through August, the cutting height should be raised slightly to help reduce drought stress. The height can be lowered again in mid-September when the cooler wetter weather starts to arrive.

Feeding – Summer lawn feeds not only ensure lush green grass they also provide the turf with all it needs to strengthen roots ahead of winter.

Weeding – Aim to remove large weeds by hand, using a lawn weeding tool or knife to take out as much root as possible. Place a pinch of lawn seed in gaps left by their removal. Lawn weed killers can be used, but apply late in the evening when evaporation will be slower, leading to better uptake by the weeds.

Watering – browning lawns are common place at this time of year. The grass soon recovers once autumn rain arrives, so it is up to you whether you water the lawn to keep it lush. New lawns started this year, should be watered through summer dry spells.

Prep for new lawns – Autumn is an ideal time to sow lawn seed or lay new turf. To ensure trouble free lawns it pays to prep the soil now, giving the ground time to settle and weeds to emerge. Bump, hollows and unwanted weeds can then be removed shortly before sowing or turfing.

Black spot on roses

This unsightly leaf disease really shows itself in late summer. Unfortunately, it is too late in its development to control with sprays. However, you can help prevent it spreading next year, by removing infected leaves as they fall. Do not add these to compost heaps as it will only move the problem around the garden. Dispose of with household waste.

On the veg patch

August is about keeping on top of harvesting to prevent produce going over on the plants. Check crops daily.

Thin out late sown carrots but watch out for carrot fly at this time of year. Create a physical barrier at least 45cm (18in) high around the crop to keep them away. Garden canes and horticultural fleece are ideal for this. If you still have onion or garlic crops, crush some of their leaves and scatter near your carrots as an extra masking measure.

Continue to feed autumn cropping squashes, pumpkins and marrows for the largest fruits come harvest.

Water tomatoes regularly and evenly to prevent the risk of blossom end rot setting in. Black bases can occur on the fruit if plants are allowed to dry out in between watering.

Quick crops like salad leaves, rocket and radish can still be sown in the south of the country with little risk. Gardeners in the North can give it a go, but be prepared for the first frosts!

Everyone can continue to sow spring cabbages, overwintering onions, turnips and oriental cabbage leaves.

My new trial garden

July 28th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Part of Graham Rice's trial garden

This spring I set up a new trial garden in Northamptonshire. It’s modest in scale compared to the colourful and productive acres Mr F runs at its Suffolk HQ, but it’s already proving invaluable in assessing new varieties, as well providing cut flowers for the house and food for the table.

Most of the area is organised in 1.2m (4ft) rectangular beds with 60cm (2ft) paths, the paths just wide enough to take the legs of the wheelbarrow. The beds are edged with 15cm (6in) pressure treated boards.

I’m growing new shrubs, perennials and annuals; also veggies and salads, new varieties and old favourites; plus flowers for cutting including a few for my friend at Foxtail Lilly, the boutique florist and vintage store, to consider for her customers.

And I’m not segregating the different types of plant in different beds. Zinnias are growing between the tomatoes, new poppies in front of the baptisias and plants of a new cosmos between a collection of new Shasta daisy varieties.

Unfortunately, this has led to a few close calls when I’ve tried to cram too much in! The ‘Jazzy’ early potatoes (tasty and prolific) made so much growth that they started to smother the yellow Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ on one side and the new kniphofias on the other! But now I’m lifting the spuds the cosmos and pokers are getting more light and recovering fast.

The stars so far? ‘Amaze’ red baby cos lettuce is good even as it starts to bolt. The ‘Hi Scent’ sweet peas with their pretty colouring and super scent have proved why they’re now essential growing although my old favourite ‘Gwendoline’ has some disappointing off-types. The crop of ‘Socrates’ mini-cucumbers has been spectacular – and there’s nothing quite like visiting a friend with a gift of tasty little cukes.

Some new calendulas from the USA are superb (can’t tell you any more at the moment), I’m also trying three hardy gladioli (one of them scented!) and they’re lovely although the rainstorms did them no favours.

I’ll keep you posted with occasional updates.

Hardy annuals to sow in summer

July 21st, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Calendula 'Snow Princess'

Back in November, I told you about my plants of the new Calendula ‘Snow Princess’. Sown at the end of July, they were still going strong a month before Christmas and were still producing flowers for cutting as well as a very pretty garden display. So I thought I’d remind you to try the idea this year.

What I did was use a plastic six-pack that I’d bought in the spring filled with violas. I washed it out well, filled it with moist seed compost and sowed three seeds, spaced out, in each cell. I covered them with just a little compost and put them on the kitchen windowsill.

I just thought that a little protection, both from hot sun and from slugs on cool nights, might be worthwhile. They were soon up, every one germinated, I turned the pack every day then planted them out as the roots started to emerge through the holes in the bottom.

I’m going to try the same thing again this year with ‘Snow Princess’ and perhaps also try ‘Indian Prince’ and ‘Princess Orange Black’ as well.

But then I wondered: what about other annuals? Zinnias perhaps? But annuals that will take a first light frost or two might be a better bet. Short sunflowers such as the top-branching ‘Soleo’ might be worth a try, or the golden ‘Hello’. And I wouldn’t be surprised if plants like ‘Summer Fruits’ scabious flower well, but on shorter plants than usual.

I think I’d raise them in the same way as last year’s calendulas. The question is: do I have enough space to try them all? Hmmm…

Making larger (and smaller) flowers

July 14th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Dahlia 'Kenora Sunset'

Exhibitors have a way of increasing the size of dahlia and chrysanthemum flowers for their shows, and we can use the same technique in our gardens. We can also adapt it to provide more flowers that are a little smaller, rather than larger, and more effective in the garden.

Increasing the size of dahlia and chrysanthemum flowers is not difficult. Simply snip off the buds immediately below the main bud on a stem and all the energy will go into producing one large flower instead of a number of smaller ones. Use sharp secateurs or sharp kitchen scissors as the stems are soft and juicy and blunt secateurs will simply squash them and let in disease.

The result will be larger flowers that look more dramatic in the garden and in large arrangements but which mingle less well with their neighbours.

With both chrysanthemums and dahlias, some varieties have been developed to provide fewer, larger flowers and some to develop more flowers that are smaller. So it pays to start with varieties that suit your intentions.

The opposite approach is to snip out the main bud to encourage more buds to develop lower down the stem. These will produce smaller flowers, better suited to mixed borders and mixed arrangements on the kitchen table.

The same technique can be applied, depending on the variety, to leucanthemums, asters, tall calendulas and sunflowers – anything with branching flower heads with a single flower at the end of each branch.

OK, I can’t guarantee how it will work with all these other flowers, it will vary with the different varieties. But it’s definitely worth a try.


Off with its head! Keep flowers blooming…

July 7th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Dead heading Scabiosa 'Kudos Blue'

What, more than any other one thing, keeps flowers blooming? Watering – yes; feeding – yes. But top of the list is deadheading.

When seeds begin to form, hormones are produced in the plant that inhibit the development of more flowers. It’s a matter of biology: the point of flowers is to produce seeds, when the seeds begin to develop no more flowers are needed, flower bud development is suppressed and resources can go into ensuring there are plentiful food reserves in each and every seed.

If the developing seed heads are removed, the flowers keep coming. And the more promptly the fading flowers are cut off the less chance of flower bud development being inhibited.

So we cut off the fading flowers as soon as they no longer contribute to the display. But how?

Well, large individual flowers (calendulas, cornflowers, dahlias etc.) are cut off individually – not at the top of the stem but at the base, where a newer shoot is usually developing. For plants with spikes of smaller flowers (delphiniums, lupins, penstemons etc.), cut off the whole spike when it gets to the stage that the dying flowers are too distracting from the few that still look good. Again, cut the whole spike off just above a newer shoot.

Plants with large numbers of smaller flowers (alyssum, limnanthes, lobelia etc.) need a different approach. These can be clipped using sharp – very sharp – shears or, perhaps more effectively, kitchen scissors. Simply snip over the whole plant. You’ll often snip off good flowers as well as dead ones but, as long as the soil is moist, they’ll soon produce plenty more.

But, basically, there’s just one thing to remember about deadheading: do it.