Sav­ing your gar­den from the post-hol­i­day blues

Middleton Guardian - - LEISURE -

RE­TURNED from hol­i­day to find bedrag­gled plants, an over­grown lawn, herbs and flow­ers which have run to seed and a glut of crops you couldn’t give away? So, what do you do? Don’t de­spair. The rain we’ve had this sum­mer may have gone some way to sav­ing flower bor­ders, but con­tain­ers left in shel­tered spots may have dried out with­out the lux­ury of an au­to­matic ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem, or a friendly neigh­bour to wa­ter them in your ab­sence.

Guy Barter, RHS chief hor­ti­cul­tural ad­viser, reck­ons that if your bed­ding plants haven’t dried out com­pletely, you should have a month of good grow­ing weather left in the south of the coun­try and a lit­tle less in the north.

“The re­cent wet weather will have helped gar­dens enor­mously, but con­tain­ers are still likely to be fairly dry, so you need to give them a re­ally good soak, dead­head the flow­ers and give plants a good feed,” he ad­vises.

Con­tainer plants, in­clud­ing petu­nias, can be cut back and should pro­duce an­other burst of growth, pro­vided the slugs haven’t de­voured the base of the plants dur­ing the rainy pe­riod, he says.

You should also be able to give trail­ing plants such as lo­belia and ba­copa a hair­cut and a feed, to prompt them into fur­ther flow­er­ing.

“Peo­ple who have been away dur­ing the wet weather should be pre­pared to come back to find a lot of slug dam­age,” he adds. “They will eat petu­nias around the base and feast on hosta leaves, and the plants will not pro­duce more leaves this year.”

It may be wise to feed vul­ner­a­ble plants with ne­ma­todes, bi­o­log­i­cal con­trols which are specif­i­cally de­signed to at­tack slugs and vine wee­vil.

Be aware that many bi­o­log­i­cal con­trols be­come less re­li­able when the tem­per­a­ture drops, as the preda­tory in­sects which pro­vide the con­trol then mul­ti­ply more slowly. Check for green­fly and black­fly and take off shoots on plants which are in­fested and dis­pose of them.

You can also get some plant bar­gains at gar­den cen­tres at this time of year, in­clud­ing herba­ceous peren­ni­als such as del­phini­ums and lupins, which have fin­ished flow­er­ing, but should grow strongly next year and hope­fully be free of mildew.

You may be re­turn­ing to long grass, which will have been grow­ing thanks to the mixed weather we’ve had in sum­mer. When tack­ling it, Guy rec­om­mends not tak­ing off more than a third at a time un­til it has re­cov­ered and don’t feed the lawn un­til autumn.

As for veg­eta­bles, you should be re­turn­ing home to bumper crops, al­though tomato blight tends to ap­pear in warm, wet weather and if your plants suc­cumb, there’s not a lot you can do apart from con­sign them to the bon­fire.

“You may have enor­mous mar­rows when you ac­tu­ally wanted cour­gettes and rather tough, stringy beans which have been left too long for pick­ing. But some of the over­grown veg could go into chut­neys.”

Let­tuces may have bolted or been dam­aged by slugs and if they are, lift them and re­place them with other crops such as Chi­nese leaves and spinach, while mus­tard seeds can also be sown for green ma­nure. Spring onions can also be sown now, where they are to ma­ture and left to over­win­ter un­til they are ready for har­vest­ing in spring.

Fill gaps in flowerbeds with dahlias, which can be lifted at the first frosts, the tu­bers stored in a frost-free dry place, then re­planted next year.

Con­tain­ers hold­ing year-round-in­ter­est plants, such as shrubs or ev­er­greens, may ben­e­fit from be­ing sub­merged in a bucket of wa­ter to re-wet the com­post, but it is dif­fi­cult to tell if the com­post is thor­oughly soaked and im­por­tant not to wa­ter­log the plants.

After re-wet­ting, ro­bust ar­chi­tec­tural plants, such as phormi­ums and box, can be lifted out of their con­tain­ers with their root sys­tem in­tact, so you can see if the com­post has been com­pletely soaked through.

Con­tinue to dead­head roses and cut back fin­ished sum­mer­flow­er­ing peren­ni­als, re­mov­ing sup­ports which propped up the plants that have stopped flow­er­ing. These can be cleaned with a mild de­ter­gent and put away un­til next year. And if all else fails... Steal a march on the cooler months by clear­ing out wilted bed­ding plants from pots and in­vest in some spring bulbs and other plants for autumn and win­ter.

A bit of work might be needed to get your gar­den back into shape after your hol­i­days

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