July: soaking it up!

On a recent trip to the Sierra Nevada in southern Spain, I noticed how careful the local population are with their water. Channels had been carefully dug along the side of hills leading to the Almond groves and crops. Fed by the mountain streams and springs, these channels brought water to the small earth dams that had been mounded up at the base of each row of plants and tree.

Taking a leaf out of their book I have scratched the surface of the soil to build up the soil in a 300mm circle around each freshly planted item to prevent the water draining away. We may have had a few days of rain but new and thirsty plants need all the help they can get and whilst my efforts are not nearly as sophisticated as those of the Andalusians, they do at least do the job. 

We are so blessed with water on our island that it really is a nonsense that we go without without water at times. Collecting rainwater in butts and collection tanks can be make all the difference and by adding comfrey or sea-weed you can create a nitrogen-rich liquid manure. ( I recommend "The Green Garden Expert" by Dr. D.G.Hessayon for further guidance).

Water levels in ponds are also dropping at this time of year. In several gardens we have extended the downpipes from the guttering and directed them towards to edge of a pond. A simple switch can be fixed to re-direct the flow of water into the mains drainage if there is a danger of flooding the area in the winter. 

So apart from the usual watering chores ( which I love at the end of a day if I have been working in front of a screen), they are a number of other pleasant tasks to attend to:

  • Wisteria can be be pruned in the next 6 weeks, cutting back the long whippy shoots to five or six buds from the main stem.
  • Once the early-summer flowering shrubs such as Philadelphus have finished flowering they can be cut back to a strong lower shoot. Thin out up to a fifth of old, woody stems.
  • As ever, ensure newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials are well watered and never underestimate how much watering a hanging basket will need. A lot.
  • Clear blanket weed and duck weed off the pond surface. Ensuring there is no nitrogen-rich fresh turf or new plants nearby will help as the nitrogen can leach into the pond and encourage pond algae.
  • Clematis love cool damp feet. Ensure that the base of the plants are not drying out. Leaning a tile or something similar to create some shade at the base of the stems will help. 
  • Dead head fading rose blooms and herbaceous plants that are "going over" and you should have another flush of flowers later in the season. Cut back to an outward facing joint to avoid "die-back".
  • Potted plants can be kept moist when you are away by soaking them in a bath or a tub. Fill the bath to a depth of 150-300mm (6"-12") and let the soil soak up the water. Drain the water to 25-50mm ( 1"-2") and this should keep them in good fettle for a week or so. Be careful with plants that are only at home in dry conditions.

You can make your life a lot easier in the drier months by having a decent layer of mulch to help keep the moisture in the soil. Combine that with a healthy layer of ground cover plants such as Geraniums or Alchemilla mollis then you are on to a winner.

Don't give up on the hand watering outside: nothing like ambling around in the cool of the evening and noticing the colours, smells and sounds of summer.