Apologies for the late publication of this June article – but as always, it is worth publishing and reading!
This month’s publication date of The Loop coincides with the traditional advice that the best date for trimming box topiary is Derby day, 1st of June. The race itself won’t be run this year but perhaps you can celebrate it by cutting any box topiary in your garden. I have got 25 box balls to cut in my front garden plus one in a pot on the patio. Finding the time to do it on the right day may not be a problem just now but the amount of sunshine we have been getting lately may be because the advice is to …cut box only on a cloudy day; doing this reduces the risk of cut leaves going brown on the edges. You can buy special shears for topiary or an electric cutter but I find that sharp shears (held upside down for a curved shape) get the most satisfying result. I enjoy doing it. Box, of course, is not the only hedge that needs cutting. Privet should be cut several times a year. Cupressus only once a year and August is a good time for doing it. However hard you try to keep them under control hedges always get thicker and taller so do plant them far enough away from your boundary line to prevent them being a nuisance to neighbours or passers-by. The ideal is to slope a hedge so that it gets narrower on both sides towards the top.
Another job that you can’t ignore is mowing the lawn. The benefit for wildlife of leaving grass long is frequently advocated nowadays but if you aim to keep a traditional well-trimmed lawn don’t be tempted to cut it too short. Especially in prolonged dry weather the lawn will stay greener if you cut it reasonably high. Leaving cuttings on the lawn is also suggested by some garden writers but, if I tried that, I would be deluged by grass from the backward throwing rotary blade on my mower. By all means use the cuttings as mulch under shrubs rather than composting them.
June is probably a less busy month in the garden than April and May but there is still plenty to do. Regular maintenance means frequently dead-heading flowers, annuals and perennials, keeping up with weeding and keeping lawn edges trimmed. A little and often applies to all of these. Frequent dead-heading will reward you with more flowers over a longer period. If you have a pond this will also need regular attention. Blanket weed will probably be the biggest problem. You can remove this by hand in a small pond, winding it round a stick, collecting it on a children’s fishing net or, as I do in a fairly large pond, with a garden rake. As with all material gathered from a pond, leave it on the edge of the pond for a day or so to allow any wild life to get back in the water. The use of chemical controls for blanket weed is not recommended. Keep the pond topped up with water. Rain water is always best as tap water introduces unwanted chemicals but a shortage of rain doesn’t leave much choice.
A prolonged dry spell, which seems to be an increasing feature in our part of the world means that time needs to be spent on watering. A sprinkler saves time but uses a lot of water; some of it randomly. If you use a sprinkler try to find one where the spread is variable in width and extent so that the water goes only where it is needed. An oscillating sprinkler with a rectangular spread covers an area more efficiently than a circular spray. Watering by hand with a hose or watering can means that all the water can be concentrated round plants were it is most needed. Keep watering newly planted trees and shrubs at least for their first year.
Watch out for aphids. An early infestation can often be controlled by picking them off by hand. Broad beans are particularly susceptible to black fly and this is best dealt with by nipping out the tops of all the plants when you first see any. Green fly on roses can be controlled with a soapy spray of well-diluted washing up liquid. White fly on vegetables in a greenhouse or confined space (particularly tomatoes) can be controlled by companion planting. French marigolds are very effective.
Nip out the side shoots of tomato plants except bush varieties and restrict to four trusses outdoors and up to eight in a greenhouse. Keep cucumber plants to a single stem for best yield. Earth up potato plants as they grow taller to keep a good depth of soil over the potatoes and stop them growing green. Keep up successional sowing for lettuce and carrots.