In The Garden

THE HOT advice this summer is to preserve water
THE HOT advice this summer is to preserve water

THE LATEST tips, advice and information crucial to maintaining your oasis of green space.

Be water wise this summer

AFTER the second driest spring on record, Hannah Stephenson offers water-wise tips to help gardeners keep their plants in top condition throughout the summer - Plus, how to reduce lettuce problems to gain the most of your crop.

I’m sure many of us basked in the glorious spring sunshine earlier this year, but beds, borders and pots were drying up before our eyes.

Now, after one of the driest springs on record, some areas are in a state of a drought, raising fears of a possible accompanying hosepipe ban.

The Environment Agency has said that East Anglia is an area of concern. Other regions may escape drought status, but we all need to do our bit to save what water we do have.

The Environment Agency advises householders not to let water run to waste while waiting for the water to get hot. Collect it and use it to water your plants. Similarly, collect the running water in your shower before getting in.

Use water-retaining crystals when planting up container plants and invest in a water butt which you can put under a drainpipe or other suitable gully and re-use the water in your garden.

The Royal Horticultural society has come up with 10 tips to help save water this summer:

1. Use waste water from washing-up or rinsing vegetables for watering, as normal amounts of household soaps and detergents will not harm soil or plants.

2. Let your lawns go brown. They will recover when the rains return. Newly sown and turfed lawns will require a lot of watering to be successful, so leave sowing or turfing until the autumn. Lawn seed companies are breeding deeper rooted grasses that hopefully will stay green for longer. These will be worth considering, particularly in drier regions.

3. Vegetables need moist soils to give their best. Water them at key growth stages. The response to water is especially marked when sweetcorn, peas and beans begin to flower, when the edible part of lettuces begins to form and when potatoes show flower buds, which initiate plenty of tubers. Most herbs are robust and better flavoured for a little drought. Digging in organic matter in winter can enable soils to hold enough water for crops to keep going for a month with no rain.

4. Mature trees, shrubs and climbers, hedges, fruit trees and bushes will not need watering during a drought. However, newly planted trees, shrubs and climbers are extremely vulnerable and it is difficult to ensure the water applied at the surface works its way down to the roots. Don’t leave hoses running all night - the water will either saturate the roots and possibly kill them or it will drain deeply below the root zone. Water should always be applied over the surface so it soaks the rootball and surrounding soil.

5. Fruit may remain small if not watered, but it should be sweet and well coloured. Cane fruit and strawberries will benefit by keeping the soil moist every two weeks. In future adding mulches in winter will help improve the soil and retain more moisture.

6. In sunny summers install greenhouse and conservatory shading and ventilation to limit overheating and invest in a min-max thermometer.

7. By grouping pots, ideally in clusters of similar size, watering is made easier and moisture loss reduced. Mass pots for mutual shading and use the largest pots possible. As days lengthen and the sun rises, more plants, especially large-leaved ones, can be gathered in shadier areas. A saucer beneath the pot to retain run-off helps.

8. Don’t dig new ground in summer if you can avoid it, as digging soil allows any remaining moisture to escape. Hoe off weeds as shallowly as you can, loosen soil with a fork and ‘puddle’ plants into the soil, adding a little liquid fertiliser. Adding nutrients helps plants make the best use of what moisture there is by encouraging extensive root growth.

9. Establishing new plants in borders during dry times can be difficult. Instead, pot them into slightly bigger pots and keep well watered and fed in light shade until the autumn planting season arrives.

10. Early summer perennials, irises for example, will survive on moisture left in the soil from winter. Give late summer perennials such as phlox one good watering in the summer as plants begin to flower, which should be enough. In the longer term, consider planting drought-resistant species in your borders such as grasses, Mediterranean type shrubs such as thymes or phlomis, or sedums and other plants with spiky or succulent leaves.

Best of the bunch — Rose (Rosa)

They are the quintessential cottage garden stalwart, but roses have come a long way since Victorian times and are now available in a vast range of colours, habits and flower shapes to suit all situations.

Place them in sun if you can and dig in plenty of organic matter beforehand. Once they are planted, feed them regularly with a proper rose feed with balanced nutrients because they are greedy plants which need plenty of energy to flower prolifically for a few months every year.

You also need to mulch them annually with well-rotted manure or compost in spring, which will help suppress weeds and retain moisture. Roses need annual pruning - some more than others - cutting out the dead growth and weak shoots and always cutting to an outward-facing bud so that the new shoots grow away from the centre of the plant.

My favourites include the David Austin shrub rose ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, which grows to around 2m and bears huge, blousy, deliciously scented pink blooms. Only a few roses are tolerant of being grown in containers, as they generally have long shallow roots for anchoring the plant and searching out moisture and nutrients. You’ll need a deep container for a good show of blooms. Try the patio rose, R. ‘Wildfire’, which produces blazing orange blooms all summer.

Good enough to eat... prevent lettuce problems

Salad leaves can suffer in warm, dry weather, whether wilting in the hot sun or bolting (running to seed) prematurely, so there are a few measures to take to keep them at their tasty best.

If it’s hot, sow seeds in the shade, as scorching weather reduces germination rates, and choose a semi-shaded spot so the plant has relief from the sun at some part of the day. Keep salad leaves well watered, adding compost to retain moisture before planting, and keep slugs at bay with either slug rings or by picking them off in the evening or after rain, when they are most likely to strike.

To help prevent bolting, mulch around plants and water during dry weather. Remove any plants that have bolted as the leaves will taste bitter and pinch out any flowers that you see developing.

Grey mould or botrytis may be a problem in cold, damp summers. Increase the spacing between plants to reduce the problem and remove any infected material immediately.

Three ways to... work with shade

1. Make the most of leaf colour in shade. Heuchera, ferns, euonymus and hosta will all provide green, yellow and red hues to brighten up a shady area.

2. Use shade-tolerant climbers such as Hydrangea petiolaris, Clematis montana and Lonicera japonica to create interest on a north-facing wall or fence.

3. If you want to grow plants under trees, add plenty of organic matter around the planting area in autumn and sprinkle a balanced fertiliser around the plants in early spring, applying a mulch in late spring and watering thoroughly during dry spells in summer.

What to do this week

Pinch out the tips of dahlias to promote bushy plants.

Protect soft fruit from birds by throwing nets over the bushes or by building a fruit cage.

Plant out hardened-off tender and half-hardy fuchsias into beds, borders and containers.

Take cuttings of carnations, fuchsias, herbs and many shrubs and perennials to root in the greenhouse.

Harvest globe artichokes before they begin to flower.

Apply a top-dressing of compost to indoor cucumbers as the roots grow through the existing soil.

As lupins finish flowering, cut the faded blooms to prevent them setting seed, so conserving energy for next year.

In milder areas, sow late runner beans for harvesting through to the end of October.

Sow seeds of swedes to provide a crop from October through to March.

Continue to stake tall perennials.

Cut down the foliage of bulbs naturalised in grass, at least six weeks after flowering.

Plant out cannas and lily bulbs, which were potted up when the weather was too cold outside to plant.

Cut back oriental poppies once they have finished flowering.

Tidy up tatty stems and flowers from hellebores, removing the leaves at ground level and mulching with organic matter.