August was the month of the big wind. Most people probably avoided major damage but there was enough to stir things up in the garden. Some of my dahlias were spoiled and I just got to the vegetables in time to stop the line of runner beans being blown down. It was a salutary reminder of the importance of providing support for plants and checking that the support hasn’t been outgrown. Many of us start sticking in stakes and tying things in when plants start flopping about but that is really too late. Ideally the support needs to be in place before a plant has grown much and of sufficient height and strength to deal with the plant when it is fully grown. For dahlias, that means strong stakes driven into the ground in the planting hole before the tubers are planted so that the tubers are not damaged. Shoots can then be tied in to the stake as growth develops. It is also a good idea to cut out any new shoots from the base once the main structure is established to prevent overcrowding. For many perennials, support can be provided, before growth gets going, by covering the area of the plant with raised netting fixed to fairly low vertical wooden supports or, if you can get young hazel branches, by weaving a mesh of twigs over the plant. This type of support tales a bit of trouble but it is strong and nearly invisible when the plant grows up. A couple of my runner beans were uprooted when the bamboo framework started going over and I could have prevented this by pegging in a couple of guy lines when high wind was forecast.
For many parts of the country August was also a month of damagingly heavy rainfall but, although we have had some wet days, I have been surprised to find how dry our soil is. That may not be the case for those of you on clay but my soil on the river gravel is very sandy and it dries out quickly. That means checking the soil from time to time and giving needy plants a good drenching. This applies particularly to anything newly planted, especially trees and shrubs. Don’t forget trees planted on verges. The council do water them nowadays but not always enough to stop them drying out. A good soak spaced out a bit is always better than frequent superficial watering. Try to water in the evening or early morning to give the water a chance to soak in rather than evaporate quickly and encourage shallow root growth.
Although ”little and often” isn’t a good rule for most watering it does apply to dead-heading many perennials, bedding plants and roses. Plants look better without tatty dead blooms and you will get more generous flowering, as plants that have set seed will feel they have done their job and don’t need to produce any more flowers. Where you are troubled by plants given to promiscuous self-seeding you need to get in early and cut off the dying flower heads before they set seed.
For vegetables this is mainly a time for harvesting but you can look ahead and sow winter lettuce and brassicas for spring. Taste rather than size is the aim for most vegetables so keep an eye on your crops and gather them young. Courgettes are particularly keen to turn into marrows overnight when you aren’t looking. The hot dry conditions this year have not been good for runner beans. They need copious watering and setting the beans can be helped by spraying with a fine spray in the evening.
If you haven’t already done your spring bulb ordering on line, bulbs will now be in the garden centres in profusion. Most can be planted straight away but remember that it is best to leave planting tulips until November when they will be less vulnerable to blight. If you are not too bothered about choice of variety or later flowering, you can often get a bargain by buying late; most bulbs will still flower.
The Biddenham Show will be on us only a week after you receive your copy of The Loop but have a look at the Show brochure and see what you have got in the garden that you could enter. The more entries there are, the greater the enjoyment for visitors and the thrill of winning is always better in the face of strong competition. Judging is on the basis of what any of us can grow in our gardens and no fancy molly-coddling or preparation of plants is necessary.