Country Gardener

Widely regarded as the authority on gardening in the south west

Jobs in the July garden

The garden is having its fi rst peak in July and it is a brilliant time for your garden or allotment. Roses will never look better, the vegetable garden is becoming fruitful again, and we pray for warm, dry weather for the strawberry harvest.

Strawberries need to be netted

Strawberries are at the greatest risk over the next few weeks so make sure your crop isn’t wasted. If you haven’t done so already, net fruit to prevent the birds from getting to it first. Strawberries, currants and gooseberries are relatively easy to throw a temporary net over if you don’t have the luxury of a fruit cage, but protecting a whole cherry tree is nigh-on impossible. Wrap a single limb and leave the rest to the birds, or better still, grow cherries as a fan or a cordon. Dessert cherries favour a warm wall, but the tart Morello cherries like a cool north wall.

pruning plumsTime of cut backs

To reduce the chance of stone fruit being affected by silver leaf, prune cherries, plums and peaches in the summer. Silverleaf is an airborne bacteria which enters the vascular system via a wound to weaken an affected tree by preventing it from photosynthesising properly. Prune in the winter and the bacteria will be drawn into the wound as sap retreats, but in the summer the rising sap will repel the alighting spores. Fan-trained peaches and cherries should have new limbs trained in from this years’ growth once the fruit has been harvested.

tomatoesStop your tomatoes from running wild

Now is the time when you want to make sure your tomatoes produce the best crop. All that time planting seeds, transferring, supporting, mustn’t be wasted now so the key job is to ‘stop’ your tomatoes after four or five trusses of fruit have set. It may seem harsh but it’s all to do with timing. Sad as it might be but summer won’t last forever and you have to make sure your tomatoes have enough time to ripen. Stop yours now: no more will ripen fully, and summer will come to an end.

Keep picking to ensure better crops

Pick sweet peas to encourage further crops of flower. Do the same for repeat-flowering roses. Deadheading also keeps the garden looking spruce, and a regular pick-over of pelargoniums and day lilies gives you the chance to check plants for problems. If the buds on your hemerocallis are looking swollen and bloated, this is a sign of gall-midge damage. Pick off the affected buds and burn them. In a wet year, rust can decimate certain hybrid pelargoniums. It can easily be prevented with an organic fungicide if you catch it before it gets a hold. Once-blooming roses that go on to form hips for autumn should not be deadheaded or you will lose a second benefit.

Timing when you plant lettuce

Germination of lettuce is patchy in hot weather, but you can get around this by sowing in the evening. The crucial moment for germination is a few hours after sowing, and as long as the temperature has dropped by then, you will have abundant seedlings. It’s also important to keep sowing lettuce almost on a regular basis so you get regular crops.

feeding rosesRoses still need that extra bit of ‘TLC’

Remember to feed roses with a handful of blood, fish and bone after their first flush to repay them for the display they are providing you. Healthy roses are far less prone to disease, and foliar fortnightly feeding will keep them in good condition. Feed tomatoes with a high-potassium liquid feed to encourage good truss production, and continue to pinch out side shoots. Feed pot plants and annual displays fortnightly. Why not try making your own comfrey tea this year to make an organic liquid feed. Fill a bucket with foliage and allow it to ferment for a week. It is a pungent brew, but it feels good to make your own fertiliser.

Perfect late potatoes

Second-cropping potatoes will produce new potatoes in autumn and winter if planted now. Plant in sacks or buckets and move into a greenhouse in blight-ridden August and when frosts hit.

Harvest time

Harvest garlic when the tops start to brown. Eat some green or ‘wet’ – it is delicious roasted. Hang the rest up in a sunny, dry place to ripen. Spray the flowers on your beans with water to help them pollinate. Continue to dig and eat the potatoes while they are still young, as they will never be better. Use the space to plant out seedling winter greens and leeks or sow salad crops. Keep up the sowing rotation so you always have new salad, rocket, coriander and dill on the way.

Get growing

After the first flush of perennials, cut back plants that can rejuvenate. Lupins, early-flowering geraniums, Anthriscus ‘Raven swing’ and astrantia all respond well. Cut all foliage and stems to the base, water deeply if it is dry and you will be rewarded by fresh foliage to carry the garden into high summer.

lawn feedingDon’t forget a summer tonic for your lawn

Even the greenest lawn will benefit from a summer tonic to help it through the rest of the season. If you use a granular type of lawn feed, sprinkle it on as per the instructions and water it in. Or save yourself a job and do it when rain has been forecast! For something even simpler, pick up one of the prepared liquid feeds available at garden centres. Mow the lawn at least once week this month and trim the edges after cutting for a neat finish.

Time to thin your fruit trees

In what is known as the ‘June drop’, fruit trees undergo a natural thinning process when fruit they are unable to support fall from the tree. Additional thinning is often required for the remaining fruit to attain optimum size and quality. This should be carried out by mid-July. Thinning has other benefits:

  • Sunlight and air can circulate more easily, which helps fruit to ripen evenly and reduces the risk of fungal diseases.
  • Branches can break if trees over-crop – a particular hazard for plums. An overly large crop can exhaust the tree’s resources, so thinning helps it to develop a manageable quantity of fruit.
  • When young trees crop too heavily, energy is diverted from developing a strong framework of branches and roots. This makes them less able to produce large crops in subsequent years.
  • Apples: To ensure the largest fruit, thin cooking apples hard; dessert apples more lightly. For both types leave just one fruit per cluster; choosing the strongest and best-shaped.
  • Apricots: Thin only if the crop is excessively heavy.
  • Plums are particularly prone to over-cropping, so thinning is vital.
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