August in the garden
Updated: Aug 3, 2022
I have never known heat like this. It has been sustained for week after week and we find ourselves in the third official "canicule" - i.e. heatwave - of the year. There have been two large forest fires reasonably near to us - one of which's fumes woke us on Tuesday morning and caused half of the village to get up and check whether or not their house was on fire. I feel as though our chickens really are coming home to roost. How this will all affect our gardens and what we grow and eat in the longer term is the subject of a book, let alone a blog - so to be tackled another time.
Miss Wilmott's Ghost, an Eryngium giganteum is thriving in the driest soil in our garden.
Meanwhile, this is what to be getting on with as summer, draws to a close.
Continue to water (when possible) plants in dry weather, paying particular attention to plants in pots as they are almost entirely dependant on you for their survival. The other priority has to be newly planted trees and shrubs. A young tree transpires (i.e. draws water from the soil and up through the leaves) at a rapid rate and while it is establishing a root network it needs help. I am finding trees I planted two or even three years ago are calling out for help this year. If you see their leaves droop or start to discolour, they need water.
You can also help maximise the benefit of water by grouping pot plants together so that they create a humid microclimate and help one another make best use of available water. You can also move sun lovers out of direct sunlight - bright sunlight and drought can become too much even for sun lovers such as perlagoniums and nasturtiums. I am finding that my more successful dahlias, this year, are the ones that are in light shade.
This group of aloes, agaves and succulents are against a SW facing wall, but have never been happier.
Continue to feed plants in pots - use a balanced all round plant food which helps roots, leaves and fruit/flowers. This not only helps them grow and flower but also fight off disease and combat stress.
Go round the garden with a notebook and make a note of which plants are coping best with the current conditions - and where they are in the garden. For me this year it is mainly grasses, aloes and agaves, euphorbias and salvias and silver or furry leaved plants.
A Justicia cultivar given to me as a cutting by a friend. It thrives in the heat and needs little water.
Assess which areas of the garden have managed to retain any moisture and which areas have soil which has baked so hard that when you try to weed you snap the weed off at ground level because it is impossible to pull it out. The longer term solution to problem soils which turn to rock-like ground is mulch, soil conditioners and the right ground cover plants, but for the time being you can just remove weeds as well as you can, and definitely before they seed - and wait until the weather turns.
Cut back dead plant material unless you want to keep it for structural reasons - i.e the stems and seed heads look attractive and/ or will provide bird food in the autumn. Some plants (eg my salvia nemorosa varieties) are still developing flower heads after being cut back hard about three weeks ago and, of course plants such as morning glory, cosmos, perlagoniums, dahlias and roses need to you regularly remove the dead flower heads in order to stimulate continued flowering.
Collect seeds - do this on a dry afternoon and store them in labelled paper bags or envelopes until you are ready to use them.
Trim lavender once the flowers have finished. Shape it into a neat mound, but do not cut back into the old, bare wood - it will not re-grow if you do. Always leave some silver leaves on the stem to allow the plant to regenerate. Lavender does not last many years before it needs replacing - it will become woody and leggy given the opportunity, and especially in a hot dry year such as this one.
Order bulbs for autumn planting.
In the vegetable garden
Continue with successional sowing of things such as summer salads, beetroot, carrots, radishes. You can also sow chard for winter greens and kohlrabi which can be picked when they are not much bigger than a golf ball and certainly no bigger than a tennis ball.
Young lettuces - sown from seed. We clip off leaves as we need them - and sow some more every couple of weeks.
Water as much and a regularly as you can, concentrating on applying the water to the soil and not the leaves.
Tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers, salads, radishes are growing rapidly at the moment and need regular picking. Harvest peppers, aubergines and chillies as they ripen.
Cut the flowers off herbs which are trying to seed - such as mint, oregano and basil. This will prolong their useful life.
Harvest onions and garlic once the leaves have gone completely brown and have bent over of their own accord. Remove them from the soil and allow the bulbs to dry out before storing them in a well illuminated, frost free place. Leave at least half the length of the dry leaves on the onions and do not remove the roots - just gently tease the earth off them.
Leave your rhubarb alone - it needs all of its leaves to enable it to build up a good crown again for next year.
Earth up your leeks as they begin to fatten to encourage long white stems this winter.
Happy tomatoes - it has been a good year for them.