Things to do in the garden this summer

Sheena Marsh wants you to get out in the garden and enjoy the horticultural pursuits of your labours over the summer!

A reliable indicator that summer is well on the way is the arrival of the first garden shows. As well as working in your own garden, take some time for a great day out at a garden show, enjoying the company of like-minded visitors to swap ideas and inspiration.

Just taking a leisurely stroll through a garden can lift the spirits, so make the most of the warmer weather and get out. There’s plenty to do to keep you occupied!

Water, water, water

After the very dry spring this year, water is precious and we need to use it wisely in our gardens.

Established plants and trees in general do not require watering. It is best to let plants reach for their own water, excess watering can lead to the formation of shallow roots and thereby creates a plant that is vulnerable to drought and wind.

However, in a hot spell, newly planted shrubs and trees will require irrigation of some sort. The first sign that a plant is suffering from drought is that the leaves wilt - they become limp because they are no longer swollen with water. They nearly always turn yellow and sometimes they become brown at the ends and the leaves drop off.

It's much better to give a newly planted tree or shrub a good soaking two or three times a week, rather than a little sprinkling every day. So, if you have just planted a new garden, water in the evening or early morning before the heat of the sun evaporates the water.

If you do have to water in the middle of the day, try not to let the water fall on the leaves as this can scorch the plants. Get to the bottom of the plant with your hose pipe or watering can.

All plants in containers rely on someone to water them or they will die. Even if we have a bit of rain, plants in containers need a lot of water. The smaller the container, the more watering it will require. Adding water retentive gel when planting containers helps.

Use a mulch to preserve water

If you’ve never used a mulch before, this might be the summer to consider it.

Mulches are basically ‘coverings’ placed on the surface of cultivated soil. They can be applied to bare soil or to cover the surface of compost in containers. Over the years, I’ve tried all sorts of materials as a mulch and have found the best one to be well rotted bark, that’s the very fine sort, not the thicker pieces of bark used in car parks (I think that looks a bit ugly.)

Bark breaks down gradually to release nutrients into the soil and help improve its structure. It will need replacing when it has fully rotted down and the key is to apply a really thick layer. An 80L bag will cover an area of about 1 metre.

In addition to preserving water, a thick layer of mulch suppresses weeds, improves soil texture, deters some pests, protects the roots of plants from extreme temperatures and give a decorative finish. What’s not to love?

If there’s one thing I’d encourage all gardeners to do this summer - it would be to become a mulcher!

Hoe or hand-pull annual weeds

Choose a dry day and leave the leaves on the surface to wither. Perennial weeds (things like dandelions and ground elder) are trickier to deal with. They have to be dug out effectively removing completely, if any trace is left in the soil, be warned, they return!

Deadheading is a regular task in all parts of the garden over the summer as flowers ‘go over.’ With many plants the flowering period can be extended if old flowers are removed as soon as they fade.

This is particularly important with roses. It will prevent the plant’s energy going into seed production and channel it into new growth and flowers later in the season. Most deadheading can be done with secateurs, cutting back to just above strong buds lower down the stem.

Mow grass regularly

…to encourage good growth. Mowing is the best way to ensure you have a good lawn. Once a week is fine but for a really good lawn, twice a week. The reason for this is that the less grass that is taken off at each cut the healthier it will remain.

It is also important to mow the grass in a different direction each time. If you mow in the same direction every time the grass begins to grow that way and the mower blades, especially on a cylinder mower, will not cut it as well.

Don’t forget to trim the edges at the same time as the lawn is cut. It makes all the difference to the appearance of a garden if the edges are cut regularly and it’s less work doing it once a week as the trimmings are few and don’t have to be cleared up.

‘Feed and weed’ lawns

Treat weeds such as dandelions in your lawn with a selective weed killer.  This is the best done in the summer, while the weeds are actively growing. There are various products available from garden centres, be careful to follow the manufacturer’s instructions as it is possible to scorch the grass by using too much.

…And enjoy!

Finally, this is the time of year to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labours. So above all take time to reward yourself. Gardening should never become a chore.

Sheena Marsh is the founder and a director of Oxford Garden Design. For over fifteen years she has worked closely with hundreds of individual garden owners to produce practical landscape plans that result in gorgeous gardens. For more information on gardens they have designed in and around the Cotswolds - and to get in touch - just visit www.oxfordgardendesign.co.uk